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.