The Secret of Challah

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The lighting of the Shabbat candles corresponds to the Menorah; the seven-branch candelabra that the Kohen lit every day in the Temple. The Menorah was located on its southern wall.

Hafrashat Challah corresponds to the Lechem Ha’panim – the holy bread that was baked once a week and placed on the Shulchan Ha’panim (holy table). The table was located on the northern wall, facing the Menorah.

Finally, the mitzvah of nidah, corresponds to the alter where the Jews brought up sacrifices to Hashem. When a Jew brought a korban it made him closer to Hashem. When a couple guards the laws of nidah, they create a special bond between them.

These three mitzvot also correspond to three emotional attributes: The menorah represents the heart which feels love and wants to do kindness. The Table that the bread was on, represents strength. And nidah represents the inner beauty in a person. The inner beauty is our ability to be full of compassion and to feel mercy.

The three mitzvot of a woman also correspond to the three patriarchs: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.  Challah, corresponds to Yitzchak. This is because challah represents strength and Yitzchak was the embodiment of gevurah (strength)! It took tremendous strength for Yitzchak to allow himself to be tied to the altar and to become a human sacrifice.

These three mitzvot have an order of how we perform them. First, we bake challah (Thursday night or early Friday morning) prior to the commencement of Shabat. Then we light the Shabat candles when Shabat begins.

And if you immersed in a mikveh - at the close of the evening, it is a special time to be with your husband since the Shabat contains in it so much holiness.

The Rabbis explain that baking challot and eating them has a special virtue that heals the immune system. It helps us fight against all sorts of diseases whether physical or emotional. This is what challah can accomplish. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabah states that the mitzvah of challah was one of the reasons why Hashem wished to create this world. Challah brings purpose to this world.

The holy Maharal explains that this world and the human being are connected. Just as the world is made up of land and water – the human being was created from the earth (adamah) and the soul (neshamah), which is compared to water. That means that challah has a connection to the human body and the world because the main ingredients of challah is flour and water. Flour is compared to the dust of the earth; while water s what we use to sustain ourselves. Therefore, when we make the hafrashat challah (separate the dough), we are rectifying our bodies and for the world.

One of the great Kabalists, the Shelah Haladosh, asked: if a person is alive it means that his soul remains in the body. But in order to live, we must eat. Food, therefore, keeps the body going. What then, keeps the soul inside the body? What is the food that we feed our soul?

In Sefer Devarim Hashem tells us the following (8:3): "Man does not live by bread alone, but rather by what comes forth from G-d's mouth does man live."

What is the meaning implied by these words?

The Torah is telling us that even though bread sustains the body, it is the Torah hidden inside the bread which actually keeps our soul alive inside our body. And when a woman does the hafrashat challah, she continues the process of keeping her soul alive and happy inside the body.

When a woman makes the hafrashat challah and recites the words, “Harei zo challah,” at that moment something very spiritual happens. Your soul screams out, “Hashem is here! He’s the source of my soul. He’s the One who supports my body. Ein od Milvado; there’s no one and nothing like Him. He’s separate from anything we know.”

The recipe for Challah is very simple. The two main ingredients are flour and water. Yet these two simple ingredients come together to create something much bigger. This is why during the process of the rising of the dough, we pray that all our prayers, just like the dough, should rise to the heavens and should be heard by Hashem. The idea of challah is to teach us that in life no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, we have the ability to rise from that experience – to grow from it – just like the challah rises and grows.

In order to create challah we begin with flour which is the most important ingredient. The Rabbis tell us, “Im ein kemach, ein Torah – without flour there is no Torah.” What do these words imply?

The physical body needs to be taken care of in order to serve Hashem. Flour, therefore, represents the physical body of a person. It also represents the dust of the earth which is what Hashem used in order to fashion Adam.

What we have to remember is that flour without water will always remain something dry that cannot become anything. Flour cannot rise without water because water is the source of life and growth. For this reason, our sages state: “Im ein Torah, ein kemach – without Torah there is no flour.” Without Torah, we will not enjoy a real berachah or receive true nourishment.

The Torah is compared to water because just like a person cannot survive without water, a Jew cannot survive without Torah. This teaches us that the flour is dependent on the water and the water is dependent on the flour. If we want to create challah, these two ingredients have to come together.

Which two ingredients?

Taking care of your body so that you could serve Hashem – that’s the flour. And taking care of your Torah, so that your body, soul, and your life will be healthy. Therefore, flour represents the body – the physical. While water, which represents the Torah, also represents the soul. The soul cannot engage in mitzvot if it is not in a body. The body is the vessel that allows the soul to serve Hashem. If the body does not have a soul, however, it cannot continue to exist. The body needs the soul in order to live. We see that flour and water represent the body and the neshamah – the two elements we need in order to serve Hashem.

Even though flour and water rise naturally, it takes a very long time for that to happen. We therefore use yeast to make the rising process easier and quicker.

The Torah tells us that although we have to rise and grow as people and as Jews – we have to be careful that as we grow in Torah, our egos should not become inflated. We should not become arrogant people. When our ego is swollen we do not see Torah, mitzvot or Hashem in the same way. When there is a feeling of arrogance we think that everything we have in life is due to our wisdom or strengths. We do not give Hashem the credit for our success. An arrogant person does not see anyone but himself. When we put the yeast into the bowl we are reminded that our job is to keep our egos in check and see to it that we remain humble. At the same time, we want to grow in all areas of life.

Sugar and salt are very important ingredients we add to the challah but they are ingredients that are opposites of one another.

Sugar helps the dough to rise. Salt does the opposite; it prevents the dough from rising. What do we do in such a case?

Our Rabbis tell us that if we want someone in our life to grow, to rise – how can we encourage that person?  It all begins with sweetness and warmth. In order to be able to inspire someone to be a good Jew, we have to show him the sweet side of Torah. We have to approach him in a sweet and loving way.

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