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Challah Recipe for Life

This week, I am happily sending you my Good Shabbos wishes from the International Shluchos Convention in Brooklyn, NY, which commemorates the Yarzheit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushkah O”BM, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I look forward to this weekend all year to reconnect with friends and with a few thousand Shluchos from around the world. It gives me an opportunity to network and recruit staff for JGR. I am also looking forward to a JGR NY reunion and my high school reunion. In addition, I am excited to moderate a session which Susan Axelrod will be giving to Shluchos on Confident Fundraising. I hope to recharge my batteries and gain new inspiration in my role of mother and shlucha. I am very thankful to my husband, Avraham, who will be caring for the boys. Thank you to Shabbos House, Rabbi Mendel & Raizy Rubin for hosting them for Shabbos!

Thursday is the day that I usually bake my Challah for Shabbos, but this week I am traveling to NY with my daughters, who will be joining their own exciting program too. So instead of baking Challah this week, let’s talk about CHALLAH and it’s RECIPE FOR LIFE.

Challah is on my mind because last sunday, I attended the first Mega Challah Bake in Albany, NY and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon with my Capital District sisters. Rochie Pinson, our guest speaker, explained the significance of this important Mitzvah. In addition, at the Online Beyond Bat Mitzvah Class last week, we learned about challah and took a Challah quiz.

My three year old son, Schneur is my baking partner each week and he has a blast mixing and kneading the dough ingredients in my large Challah bowl. As we poured and mixed the ingredients, he turned to me and said with pure innocence, “Mommy, Meme Rachel is happy that we are making Challah!” He must have overheard me telling my family that when we do Mitzvot, my dear grandmother, Meme Rachel O”BM is happy in heaven.

My mind wandered as I thought to myself: “Yes, Schneur is so right, when we prepare Challah, Meme Rachel is smiling from above. The Mitzvah of Challah, entrusted to women, links us to all the generations of mothers before us. I derive the strength from Meme and all of our female ancestors to nurture my family physically, spiritually and emotionally.”

The Mitzvah of CHALLAH is so much more than just baking bread. It is a rich spiritual experience and a recipe for life. Meme Rachel, an expert baker, taught me so many important life lessons by her noble example. (I hope to share a new blog in her memory called “Meme Rachel’s Recipes for Life.)

When I add the water and sugar, which represents kindness and sweetness, I smile and remember Meme Rachel who showed us that the most essential ingredient is LOVE and sweetness. She showered us with kindness and put love into everything she did.

We add the ingredients to the yeast which is alive and symbolizes LIFE. It allows the dough to rise, and reminds me of the way Meme helped people rise in their CONFIDENCE. The water must be warm for the yeast to rise. Meme’s positive personality added so much warmth to her environment. We can learn from Meme to create a WARM and loving atmosphere in our homes so people can grow.

I add the eggs, which bonds the dough, and I recall Meme Rachel’s ability to BOND with all who knew her, young and old. I add my oil, used to anoint kings, and reflect on the way Meme anointed us with her praise and compliments. Like oil, which stands apart, she was able to appreciate the unique gifts that made each person special. Her intentions were so pure, like the purest of oils. She didn’t expect anything in return. She was 100% PURE, genuine and real!

Meme would PRAY to Hashem with all her heart. She couldn’t read Hebrew but she still prayed and taught me to pour my heart to Hashem and repeat, “D.ieu Aidez Moi – Hashem Help me!” I pour in the flour, which represents the physical BODY and I pray for all the physical sustenance needed for a healthy body to fulfill the soul’s purpose.

As I add the salt, to keep the yeast contained so that it doesn’t go out of control, I think of Meme Rachel who lived each day with just the right amount of CONTROL and self discipline. She woke up early every morning to do her daily exercise before saying her prayers and eating breakfast. The house was always in tip top shape; she never wasted a minute because there was always work to do. In her free time, she would knit and sew our clothes. She liked being organized and cooked for shabbos in advance.

Mixing the ingredients is not sufficient, it is time to take on a new challenge and knead the dough with our HANDS. I may feel fatigued, but if I roll up my sleeves, keep at it and knead well, I will get a soft dough that is shaped into delicious challahs. Meme Rachel taught us to keep going and never give up despite the challenges we face. She wasn’t discouraged when she had to pick up and move her family from Algeria to France in 1962, due to the Arab Revolution.

As I kneaded the dough, we sang, “Meme is so happy.. We are making Meme’s Challah”! Once the dough is ready, we let it rise and remember that growth takes TIME and patience.

Before we shape the loaves, we fulfill the Mitzvah of separating a small piece of Challah with a blessing. The Mitzvah of separating Challah represents our true purpose to nurture others and transform raw ingredients to become HOLY. When we share with others and trust that our sustenance comes from a higher source, we bring heaven down to earth. Thank you Meme for showing me how one can truly live by these values!

Today, we don’t have a Beit Hamikdash, so when we separate challah, we pray for the rebuilding of the Third Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. Meme asked her children to bury her in Jerusalem and her kever is so close to the place where the 3rd Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt. I am certain that she is praying for our reunion very soon and she will be holding front row seats.

On Shabbos, my family complimented the Challah and asked me if I used a new recipe. Yehudah said, “Mommy, It is extra scrumptious and delicious.” And so because they asked, I told them about Meme Rachel’s Challah Recipe for Life and how I felt Meme’s presence as I kneaded the dough and sang with little Schneur.

I taught my children and my online Class that this is the proof that baking Challah is so much more than just mixing flour, water, sugar, oil, salt together. It is the love, the intention (Kavanah) and the spirit that we knead into the dough. This truly applies to all the good deeds that we perform each day.

And then last Shabbos, “Mendel, turned to me and asked: “Mommy, did you use Meme’s Challah recipe again?

And I answered with a smile, “Yes, Mendel, I sure did!!

with blessings,
Nechama

P.S. What is the source for this meaningful Mitzvah? When the Jewish people first inhabited the Land of Israel, one of the many gifts they were commanded to give to the Kohanim, who served in the Beis Hamikdash, was a portion of their dough “the first and the best.” This gift of food is known as Challah, from which the name of our Shabbat loaves came from.

Nechama Laber
Nechama Laber
Nechama is the founder & director of the Jewish Girls Retreat, and Jewish Girls Unite. She is also a Judaic consultant and educator, Bat Mitzvah teacher for over 20 years. Nechama is a mentor, public speaker and author of numerous creative curricula. She teaches for Jewish Girls Unite where you can meet her online. Nechama and her husband, Rabbi Avraham Laber, are the co-directors of Chabad of S. Rensselaer County and have lived in the Capital District since 1996. They are the proud parents of 10 children KH.

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