The Secret of Challah

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When we add sugar to the bowl, we are allowing the dough to rise in the proper way, with sweetness and goodness. In this way, the recipe is already beginning in a good way. Therefore, we do not add the salt before the sugar because this will disturb the process of the rising of the dough.

Sugar also represents emunah. When a Jew has the proper emunah everything in his life tastes sweeter. Even the challenges appear sweeter because we realize that everything Hashem does is for the best.

Salt, melach, comes from the word, “me’lach,” which means to moisten. Salt also represents gevurah, harshness; the discipline in the world. We cannot always do what we wish to do. We have to have a certain amount of discipline in life otherwise the world would become chaotic.

Salt, by itself, is bitter – but when we blend it the right way with other spices, it draws out the sweetness in that food. Salt has the ability to break down the hardest rock and at the same time, it has the ability to make meat tender and soft. This is a great lesson in the rearing children.

As parents, we must be strict with our children and teach them through discipline. However, before we apply a stern way of teaching we have to be sweet and tender. The sugar in the bowl, therefore, helps us to achieve this – and the salt does as well.

Water is what gives life to this entire planet. All life begins with water. Think about it. Women immerse themselves in the waters of the mikveh in order to create a new life, a baby. In the womb, the baby lives in water. Every day we use water to drink and to wash. Finally, when a person leaves this world, he is once again immersed in water before he is laid to rest into the ground. Water is the source of life.

Because water brings life to everything, it also represents the attribute of chesed (kindness). Therefore, as we add the water, we should think of something in our life that we want Hashem to bless us with an abundant kindness. It should flow down into our lives, just as water flows.

Water is also used to make something pure. So when we combine flour and water something magical occurs.  The flour and the water begin to rise. This is the secret of life. We do not live in this world to have fun and to enjoy. We are here in order to grow and to accomplish something greater. Our job is to take all the things Hashem gives us and to turn them into something special and holy – that we could serve our families so to speak.

Oil is a very unique substance. It spreads itself and moistens whatever it comes in contact with. It also adds richness to any food. At the same time, it remains separate. If you put oil in water, it will always separate itself and rise to the top. This is the characteristic of the Jew. No matter what a Jew goes through in life he manages to survive and he rises to the top despite the odds.

Oil was also used to create light. The Jewish people are considered a light unto the nations. We bring light to this dark world. But just like the oil, we have to remain separate from the other nations. We must remain unique and special.

When discussing the secret of the ingredients, no one ever mentions the bowl that is used to mix all the ingredients that are going to create the dough. Do you know how important the bowls are? They are the vessels that hold this holy bread. Bread has been mixed in bowls for thousands of years.

If a person tries to mix the ingredients on a flat surface, all the ingredients will spread out and fall off the surface. The job of the bowl is to hold all these ingredients together. And while kneading the dough in the bowl, notice how all the ingredients come together in the center of that bowl.

No matter where the ingredients begin in the bowl – they will always end up in the center as the one piece of dough that will become your challah. The bowl is a vessel for all things to come together and become one.

A woman also has a bowl inside her. It’s called the womb. The womb is the container of life. It receives all the ingredients and then creates life. According to the holy books, the female organ is a vessel that receives.  The baby in the womb begins to take shape and when the baby is ready it comes out. The same is true with the challah bowl.

This is the time to introspect and allow things to happen naturally. Giving the dough rest is part of the growth process. In life, one has to know when to take a step back and allow Hashem to do the work. When we leave the dough alone we allow it to do what it naturally does when it is put in a warm place; it rises. So too with a human being. There are times that we must allow the process of time, together with patience, to do its own thing as we begin to develop and rise.

The Gemara of Sanhedrin teaches that when Hashem created Adam, he took the dust of the earth, the water and the element of air and He kneaded Adam very much like we knead dough. It was then that Adam became the challah of the entire world. When you knead the dough you are working with your hands to make certain that all the ingredients amount to something.

In the olden days Jews separated the challah and offered the separated piece to the Kohanim. This is how the Kohanim ate. That means that separating the challah is one of the most powerful ways to give tzedakah.

During the separation of the challah we recite the berachah that begins with the words, “Baruch Atah.” We realize that Hashem is the source of all the blessings we have in this life. And blessings come to us when we are willing to separate ourselves from the other nations of the world; when we are willing to separate some of our money and give it away to charity; when we are willing to put our egos aside and become humble people.  This is the secret of separating the dough.

After we separate the dough we recite the words, “Harei zo challah.” We are acknowledging the fact that this piece of bread we separated is holy. This special piece is different than the remainder of the dough. As we hold that piece in our hands for those few seconds, we know we are holding something precious and holy.

The most common practice is to braid the challot; especially with 6 braids.

The number 6 represents the six days of the week, while the challah itself represents the seventh day that is Shabat Kodesh. When we have two challot each containing 6 strands - it equals twelve (12). The number twelve represents the Tribes of Israel.

The Rabbis note that even if one does not make a 6-strand challah, if a person braided the strands and created two elongated challot – each elongated Challah represents the letter Vav (ו). The numerical value of the letter, “Vav,” is six (6). Two challot therefore, equals twelve.

Sefaradim have a tradition to make round or flat challot as it represents the cycle of life.

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