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Challah Role

Challah Role

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While making challah the other day, I thought about how unique this commandment is and the particular meaning it has for me, a Jewish woman. Most of the time when I bake challah, all I think about is that I want the challah to be of a good consistency, have ample time to rise, and, of course, taste good, because, for heaven's sake, why else would I, in the twenty-first century, be elbow deep in sticky dough as I knead it by hand?! I may as well buy it, or order it online, for that matter. But challah dough kneading goes a lot deeper and you have to be willing to dig your hands in, and get them sticky to find out its true beauty and power.

Bread is considered a foundational, sustaining food

Challah, or in truth, any kind of bread, is considered a foundational, sustaining food, which is why the blessing said on bread differs from that of any other food. And I have found, in my experience of making challah, that there is a personal lesson and meaning not just in the final product of the bread we eat, but in the process of making this holy bread itself. It helps shed light on my role as a Jewish wife and mother.

For starters, even from the most practical side, I only buy top-quality bread flour. Anything of lesser quality and it just doesn't taste as good. Every ingredient makes a difference, and I try to make sure the ones I choose are the best, because they directly affect the outcome. When I raise my children, every part of their environment - the words that are spoken, the pictures on the wall, the trips we take, the emotional temperature of the home, who they associate with - and every other detail are pieces of the spiritual, emotional and physical input I allow to enter my children's lives. It is their quality which will influence the outcome, and create the path for the future that I help pave for my children.

Another thing about challah is that the yeast needs sugar to help it rise. So too, my children need sweetness. They need praise, joy, time to be silly and just to have fun. It helps them grow, it keeps their spark of love for life alive, and is vital for their development - just like my challah dough. On the other hand, if the dough has no salt in it, the puffiness will not hold. But you always start with the sugar, and wait until it is bubbling, to be sure that the sugar has taken effect. Then, and only then, do you need to add your bit of salt. Now the ratio is heavier on the sugar side, but the salt is vital. And too much salt or too little salt can ruin the dough.

Children need to have a little pinch of criticism, discipline and seriousness in order to help them stand through life without losing hope or strength of character. We must not completely shelter our children from the harshness of life's brunt, so that they can learn to protect themselves. We must fortify them with the sweetness of life, for this is where they will flourish, but make sure to balance it with just a little pinch of the stringencies of the world.

The harder you sweat at it, the better it will be

After adding all of the ingredients, it's time to knead the dough. And know this rule: the harder and longer you sweat at it, the better it will be. When worked with, when I put all my strength into the knead, the consistency changes, the quality is more refined, and in the end, the challah tastes better, too. I push it, I pull it, and I squeeze it. In fact, I am pretty tough with my dough, but this way it will rise much better, this is why I do it. I know it. How true with my children, too. It is a strength coming from a place of love, and for the right reasons.

After you have done all you can, the time comes when you need to leave the dough alone. Notice that this is the time the dough will rise most. Just keep the dough warm and protected, away from outside drafts. In a child's life, there are many times when we must take a step back. We need to give them their independence. We need to trust that we have put in the right ingredients, but at a certain point, they need to learn on their own. They need to be given their space and time to grow and develop. If we keep uncovering the dough, poking at it, and moving it, it will never rise. Only when we give it time, and sometimes a lot of time, it has the chance to not only rise, but to double in size. And some dough takes longer than others. Some rise fast, then fall. Others need you to punch down the dough after some time, then give it even more time to rise again. All dough, like all children, is different. And depending on the smallest circumstances - the temperature that day, the humidity in the home, the warmth or cold near the dough - there can be a huge difference in how the dough comes out.

Hopefully, after you have patiently waited, the dough will have risen. You can shape it, bake it, and take pride in its beauty on your Shabbat table. But before you do that, the first piece of all that hard work, that soft pliable, now fluffy dough, is separated. That piece is not for you to eat or enjoy. It is for our Creator. You realize that everything, even the outcome of your own hard work, is really all from G‑d.

This is the affirmation we make by separating the "challah," the special piece of the dough offered to the Kohen, the High Priest in the times of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, which nowadays is separated and then burned to prevent its consumption by anyone else. On the basis of that you form your Challot. Once that is done, all material sustenance is sanctified.

We create unity in creation by acknowledging that there is a higher purpose

When we consciously sanctify mundane activity, when baking bread becomes a way to remember G‑d's unity, then the entire home has been illuminated. We are taking notice that all we own is not just there for us to enjoy. Our "things" we claim ownership of belong to G‑d, who bestows blessing upon us by allowing us to enjoy these things. We create unity in creation by acknowledging that there is a higher purpose to eating a good piece of challah.

In a culture that endorses ownership and material accumulation, in a time when satisfaction is said to come from physical pursuits, we try to teach our children to value spirit over matter, and selflessness over instant gratification. We try to imbue them with proper morals and ethics, and prepare them to make the right choices. When we remember G‑d with the small act of separating challah, when we show that in all our work, in all we attain in life, we share what we have with something greater than ourselves, then we are not only talking values, we are acting on them.

So, in the end, it is all in your hands. You are the woman, the wife, the mother. And when you work with the dough in your life, you knead it, you stretch it, and you form it. You form your children, and you form your husband (though he may never admit it). Just like with the challah, it takes practice and skill and work to form them right. But you keep on practicing week after week, Shabbat after Shabbat, challah after challah.

Doba Rivka Weber resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a proud mother of four. She and her husband are Chabad emissaries to the local Israeli community.
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Rosie Weinstein Newtown, PA, usa October 12, 2010

Rivka - this is a beautiful article!i never knew you wrote so professionally!
thanks for the inspiration. Reply

leila reis boca raton, florida via chabadofbocaraton.com July 29, 2010

challah it is just wonderful Reply

Anonymous July 12, 2010

I WANDER... I wander how old are your children ? Have they gone through adolescence yet?
yours, sounds like an ideal picture of the challah and the children and the choices you proudly make: they all seem to hit right on target.
After several readings i am still left in front of a hard act to follow in REAL LIFE.
I DON'T TRUST THE "PERFECT" PEOPLE Reply

Chana brooklyn, ny June 30, 2010

so true! Came across this article just now. It has such significance to me as a mother of two young children who recently began making Challa. Thank you for reminding me to take more time and patience with my Challos and my children! There's always room for improvement! Reply

brenda Buenos Aires, Argentina April 7, 2010

incredible i am reading this article from Argentina, it is just incredible, really grat!!! congratulations!!!
Brenda. Reply

Esther lj, ca May 19, 2009

scholarly! I love this article & will use it each time I share this Mitzvah! Thank you! Reply

sara bayla wineberg May 29, 2008

really beautiful meaningful article
thank you for the insight Reply

Chaya Brocha Morozow brooklyn, NY December 31, 2007

Wow! Wow Rivka, this was really amazing to read. Thank you! Reply

Evelyn Plotkin Boca Raton, Fl., USA March 14, 2007

A fabulous article with lots of 'food for thought". The author is not only a very talented baker and writer, but she is a wonderful mother and example for her children. A non-biased........Bubbie Plotkin! Reply

Anonymous March 14, 2007

Very well stated. Challah is such an amazing bread. It's ability to teach us and absorb what we have learned, amazes me weekly. It is great to hear of other people experiences with the gift of making challah. Thank you for sharing this with us. Reply

Gavriella Quincy, CA March 14, 2007

Yes!!!!!!!! How true this article is and what a wonderful way of putting into words the meaning and expression behind "Challah and Child rearing". What a blessing this article is. I love to bake my Challah on Erev Shabbat and share it at out Shabbat table! Shalom Alechem Reply

Gisele Brooklyn, NY March 12, 2007

I have cherished memories of baking Chalah with my grandma as a kid, and the wondeful bonds between both of us and G-d. I do miss those times alot, thanks to this article the memories have come back to me. And now when I buy chalah at the special bakery in my area- that has the same smell of the fresh baked chalah- these memories will be saviored, and not rushed though! Thanks for this special article. Reply

Chaya Melbourne, Australia March 12, 2007

Wow! I really liked how u were able to compare the challah and relate it to our daily life and struggles that we encounter. Very creative! Keep it up! Reply

Anonymous dallas, tx March 11, 2007

gluten free challah I've tried and tried to find a really, really good gluten-free challah? Does anybody have a recipe? Reply

Chaya Rivka CA March 11, 2007

Wonderful article! Very inspiring to the Jewish woman. Reply