A few years ago, I rediscovered my “Jewishness”. As a ‘Jew in training’, I began to learn more—and keep more of the mitzvos that are part and parcel of an observant life. With each new commandment I would keep, I felt myself becoming more comfortable with my soul—I felt like I’d come home. There was one mitzvah, though, that I felt belonged to the ‘pros’’—that being the mitzvah of Challah.
Baking Challah intimidated me to no end. For years I shied away from this mitzvah for no apparent reason. I opted for the convenience of store bought Challah, deluding myself—and cheating myself—out of this incredible mitzvah. I would bring home the requisite loaves along with another excuse of why this week it was absolutely, positively necessary to go to the bakery once more.
And then, after so many years it suddenly happened—I felt an urgent need to knead those golden loaves myself. I took out my Kitchen Aid mixer, and followed the recipe to the letter. I watched as the dough hook began to form flour into dough. The mixer began to dance on my counter, apparently sharing in my joy at the new journey I was embarking on—the journey of Challah. The mixer began to move like a Chassid celebrating the apex of Simchas Torah, when all of a sudden, the motor began to emit a groaning sound, and a burnt smell filled the air. I desperately tried to resuscitate my mixer but the damage had been done. My mixer had suffered a dough attack.
Amid tears for my mixer, my husband tried every method to try to bring it back to life. No luck. This mixer had met its end. Undeterred, I decided from that day forward to knead it by hand. (Yes, the Kitchen Aid was still under warranty and was promptly replaced, though it is forbidden to knead dough, for medical reasons.)
I pounded the dough, marveling at this rite of passage I had embarked on. I was finally joining a several thousand year old sisterhood of Jewish women who, through the years, devotedly baked these golden loaves each erev Shabbos. I marveled at the wisdom of Hashem Who, before kickboxing was ever popularized, gave women this mitzvah as a great stress reliever (not to mention as a great muscle toner)! As my Challos baked, the aroma filled the entire house. The house did not only feel like Shabbos—it SMELLED like Shabbos. The scent of Challah was like a warm embrace, enveloping every member of my family—because it was baked with love.
After my first Challah baking experience I was hooked—sans the dough hook, of course. My family would have no more store bought Challah. Nothing could compare to the experience of slicing home made Challah, fresh from the oven. My family was not only receiving physical nourishment—they were getting spiritual nourishment as well. When you commit to Challah you are committing to a legacy. You’re committing to the continuity of the Jewish people. For as our children get older, the pull of assimilation is very strong. But if they grow with the scent, the feel and the taste of Challah, it is a veritable safety net, as innocent as baking Challah seemingly is.
So Baruch Hashem, I am now a part of that great sisterhood, the sisterhood of Challah bakers. I am redeeming my great grandmother’s rolling pin, burned amidst the ashes of Auschwitz—and I have given it a new life. The indestructible spirit of the Jews has found its way back into my soul, and into my kitchen, in a seemingly innocuous batch of dough that to the naked eye may seem like dough, but in reality is so much more.
Every erev Shabbos I mix all the ingredients and I knead my dough. I have taken a recipe from a cookbook, and made it my own. I then give it to my family as a gift to add to their yiddishkeit, planting the seeds for future generations. As I knead the dough, I feel my grandmother and great grandmothers at my side. When I’m done kneading, I say the proper Brocha, and take off the required piece which belongs to Hashem, and I burn it. No matter how technologically advanced, how ‘civilized’, or how hectic our lives may be—our hands have the power to ‘knead’ the continuity of future generations—we have the ability to ‘shape’ our childrens' futures. Such is the power of the Jewish woman.
Women have been given three mitzvos—Shabbos, family purity, and Challah. These are the three mitzvot that the Jewish women have kept throughout the millennia—and these are the three mitzvoth that have kept the Jewish people whole.
May we merit baking Challah, side by side, with our Bubbies, and our Bubbies Bubbies in Yerushalaim once again. May the merit of our golden Challah’s usher in a golden era of peace, that promises to be as sweet, and as full of love, as the Challahs gracing our Shabbos tables—may it be speedily in our days, Amen!
For those wishing to embark on this wonderful mitzvah, the best guide, in my humble Challah baking opinion, can be found in the classic cookbook Spice and Spirit. It’s detailed descriptions and easy to follow steps make it a wonderful instruction manual for beginners—enjoy!