As you’re reading this, over 70 women and girls from our Temple Emanu-El community are gathered in the social hall engaging in the spiritual act of preparing challah dough for Shabbat as a part of our 40th Anniversary Women’s Challah Bake.
That’s around 650 cups of flour, 350 eggs, 140 cups of water, 140 Tbsp. of yeast, 75 cups of sugar, 70 cups of oil, and 70 Tbsp. of salt.
Each of these ingredients has a higher spiritual connection that we can incorporate into the act of preparing the dough. We think about where each ingredient came from: The hands of the workers who handled the machines that picked the wheat and ground it into flour, the hands that harvested the sugar, the truck driver who drove the oil, the plant workers who give us access to clean water, the person at the check out counter who rung up the yeast and the salt, and the chickens who laid the eggs. We are now deeply connected to the ways of the world that allow the ingredients to sit at our prepping stations.
Leaving the physical realm, we think about the higher connection of these ingredients:
Our water represents Torah. Just as we need water to live, so too does our community require Torah to sustain us and “keep us hydrated” so that we can live a fulfilling life.
Our flour represents sustenance, this is the main ingredient in our bread, without it we cannot create the dough. God, as Creator, has loaned us this earth to till and develop. We, as co-creators, are responsible for improving the canvas God has given us to paint.
Our sugar represents sweetness. We reflect on the sweet moments of our week and of those we seek to create in the week ahead.
Our yeast represents the chance to grow. Just as the yeast causes our challah to rise, so too does it represent our own chance to grow into ourselves throughout our life.
Our salt represents restraint. In the scheme of the whole challah, the amount of salt that we add is quite small. It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t rebuke anyone too harshly — sometimes we should rebuke less than we think necessary so as not to “over salt” an issue.
Our eggs represent life. Their circular shape demonstrates the continuous cycle of life everlasting and the potential for new things to “hatch” before our eyes.
Our oil represents our resilience and ability to rise above different obstacles in life. This particular ingredient also connects back to the anointing done during sacrificial times and of the Jewish kings. It is also a nod to the future anointing/appointing of the Messiah (which our prophets say will be done with oil).
We combine these ingredients with care, patience, and love. We braid the dough into a beautiful loaf, and we serve the bread to family and friends.
Do you remember the first time you tasted an amazing challah? How old were you? Where were you? Who were you with? What made that particular challah so fantastic? What’s holding you back from recreating those memories for yourself, for a spouse, or for your children?
Challah baking is a deeply spiritual piece of Jewish tradition, which is why Rabbi Max and I are bringing the chance to bake challah to every sector of our community. I believe that developing a spiritual practice around challah will be something that you or you and your family will remember for the rest of your lives. You’ll build lasting memories that will connect you to yourself, your family, and the earth.
The women’s challah bake may have been tonight, but mark your calendars to register for our Family Challah Bake on Sunday, January 27 (register here) and our Men’s Challah Bake and Whiskey Tasting on March 6 (register here).