Making and taking challah
In contemporary usage, Challah refers to the braided egg bread we Eastern European Jews eat on Shabbat. Challah though in the past didn’t refer to the bread itself ( which was often known in Yiddish speaking communities as barches, because the b’racha, blessing was said over it) but rather to what one did to the bread.
After the first rising, you take challah, a portion, a bit of the bread and burn it. It’s a vestige of old temple times practices where a portion of your food was given to the priests. they were not allowed to own land, so they were dependent on the food gifts from the rest of the community.
We no longer have the Temple, but we remember the entire sacrificial system with this small act.
This is a mitzvah that is most often done by women, like candle lighting before Shabbat and the holidays. there is a belief that when you do such a mitzvah The Divine is more likely to hear your prayers.
Occasionally I will receive an email from someone asking me to think about a particular individual in need of help while I fulfill this mitzvah. Although I feel terrible for the person in need of help, and I take doing this small mitzvah seriously, I never follow the requests made in the emails. I come from a far more rationalist tradition. I assume that The Holy One has better things to do than to worry about what I’m thinking about as I bake my challah.
It has been a month since I baked challah. Usually I make a four stranded braid. It looks prettier than a three stranded braid. I can also justify the meaning of the four strands as symbolizing the four matriarchs. Actually, I think seeing some of the fancy braided trim at M+J yesterday got me thinking about more complicated braids.
Today, I made a six stranded challah, a seven stranded challah and an eight stranded challah. In truth, they don’t look all that different than one another. one of the reasons I was playing is that I’m thinking about the challot I will be making for Rosh haShanah. there is a tradition to make them crown-like. I was thinking about a braided ring to symbolize the crown.
I was just in the mood to show off my braiding skills, at least to myself.
What are we eating???? stealth vegetable meat balls, kale salad ( with dates and a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette) and rice baked with cardamom seeds. I bought a hunk of halvah for dessert, yes with pistachios.