As you know, there are three ‘big’ mitvahs that are earmarked for women: lighting candles at the beginning of Shabbat; keeping the laws of family purity, including going to the mikva after counting 7 clean days at the end of your monthly cycle; and making challah.
At various points, each of these mitzvoth have caused me huge amounts of anxiety and heartache, and occasionally tested me to breaking point. (I know, you’re probably wondering ‘what’s the big deal about lighting candles?’ It’s a post for another time, but believe me, even that mitzvah can be really, really hard sometimes.)
Of the 3, the one that I’ve always done the least happily is making challahs. Until I got to Israel, it was never even on my radar, but then I started learning all this amazing, inspiring, uplifting stuff about the spiritual importance of making challah, and how much blessing it brings to the home.
So about 8 years ago, I made an agreement with God to make challah once a month.
Dear reader, they came out so gross!
And they continued to come out pretty disgusting for about the next six years, until God finally sent me a recipe that worked OK with wholewheat flour.
In order to say the blessing on the challah, when you separate the dough, you need to be baking with a minimum 2 kilos of flour.
That makes a lot of dough.
When you have 12 hungry mouths to feed, you can probably get rid of it fairly quickly, but my two kids were not big challah fans, so even when I made small loaves and turned the rest into pizza bases for the freezer, I still ended up chucking out a lot of bread.
To try and solve that problem, I started giving challahs to my neighbours in the last place I lived, and with the new recipe, they were even pretty edible.
So I thought I’d got the challah thing sussed (and it only took me six years…)
Then we moved to Jerusalem, and I got hit by a spiritual tsunami of huge proportions.
Amidst all the chaos that my life suddenly descended into, making challah went out the window: it was hard enough just making supper, doing laundry and getting through the day without a nervous breakdown.
I went 5 months with no challah.
Then, I went to Uman just before Chanuka time, and I happened to pick up a book by Rav Natan, Rebbe Nachman’s main disciple. I opened it up randomly – and it was talking about how even if you lose everything, spiritually, the one mitzvah you should hang on to is baking challah.
Challah represents rectifying the world, and rectifying the self, at a very profound spiritual level.
I was inspired (although also curious about what the heck a big rabbi like Rav Natan was doing making challahs…), so I came home, and for the next two months, I managed to make challahs.
But then, I got pretty exhausted and sick again (it’s been happening like that all year: I get out of one health issue, and I fall straight into another) – and once again, I just didn’t have the energy to bake challah.
Pesach was coming up, so I also had the excuse that I didn’t want to fill up my freezer with bread.
Which brings us up to this week, and the Shabbat after Pesach, when there is a famous segula for parnassa to bake a challah, and hide a key in it.
I’ve done that every year for the last 7 years, but this year, I just couldn’t seem to manage it.
I went to talk to God about it all, because I realized my challah issue was reflecting some big internal stuff back at me:
I’m sick of making all the effort to bake bread, when no-one really wants to eat it, and it just lounges around in my freezer for months, or gets chucked out.
And the same is true in other areas of my life, too.
I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve been putting out so much, in so many different arenas, and that I still have precious little to show for it.
In my personal prayer this morning, and I explained to God that I’ve run out of steam, and I can’t do it anymore. I need Him to step in to fix the world, and to fix me, and to make the challah, and without that extra Divine assistance, I just can’t see how it’s going to happen.
Which means that at least for now, home-made challah is off the menu.