The homemaker leans forward over the large, sturdy kitchen table. Her arms rise and descend in circular motions; her hands and fingers squeeze and press, pull and squeeze a glutinous, resilient mass. Into this mass are compressed:
Grain, grown and harvested by her family’s toil;
Water, pumped out of her ground and measured with her cup;
Yeast, salt and condiments concocted in her kitchen or purchased with her money.
These she kneads into an amalgamated dough, from which to prepare bread for herself and her family.

But first she breaks off a piece. Before she bakes her toil, talent and thaler into food and feed, she scans the expanse of dough for a choice bit to raises up as “challah”—a portion of dough consecrated as a gift to G‑d.

Behind a row of glass doors are arrayed the family’s “beautiful things”: crystal vases, porcelain serving dishes, knickknacks and conversation pieces of varying sizes and substances. But the most beautiful—and expensive—item on display is the silver kiddush cup the family uses each week on Shabbat, to proclaim the sanctity of the divine day of rest and their commitment of their lives to their Creator’s purpose.

In 1940, a chassidic rebbe is rescued from Nazi-occupied Warsaw and brought to the safety of the American continent. His first priority is to rebuild in the New World the Jewish life destroyed in the Old Country. He dispatches his disciples to cities and towns across America to establish schools for Jewish children.

In these “day schools,” as they are called (as distinguished from “Hebrew schools” that operate after school hours), the children are taught the Torah and the Talmud, the prayers and the rituals, the history and the philosophy of the Jewish people. There is also a full-fledged secular curriculum—English, math, science, etc.—to provide the technical tools and skills of life.

One of the guidelines the rebbe established for these schools is that the morning hours should be devoted to the children’s Jewish education, with the secular subjects taught in the afternoon. These schools all operated on shoestring budgets and with limited manpower; it would have been so much easier, cheaper and more “practical” to stagger the classes, so as to extract more out of their meager resources. But the rebbe insisted that this be the way it is done. In the morning hours, he explained, the child’s mind is fresher, his desire to learn more eager, his faculties sharper; these prime hours should be devoted to matters of primal importance—our identity and our mission in life.

A day in the life of a human being is a world unto itself: continents and islands of wakefulness separated by oceans of sleep and repose; furrowed fields of industry, mountain ranges of spirituality, deserts of boredom, cities of social interaction, highways of communication . . .

Which is the choicest moment of the day? The moment of waking. Where the sea of the subconscious breaks on the shore of awareness in a crack of potential. What you do at this moment has greater impact on your day, and life, than any other action at any other moment.

So what do you do the moment you wake?

And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying:

When you eat from the bread of the Land, you shall raise up a gift for G‑d.

The first portion of your dough, you shall separate as challah . . . in all your generations. (Numbers 15:17–20)