Spiritual Challah by Rachel Aviner

Spiritual Challah by Rachel Aviner

I’m sure that a recipe has never moved me to tears, until I read this this special challah recipe which is a semifinalist in the JewishMOM.com Chanukah Recipe Contest. It was submitted by Jerusalem JewishMOM Rachel Aviner. In addition to being the mother of these two cuties in the photo below, she is currently studying to receive her MA in Sociology.

Rachel with her husband and children

Rachel explains the background behind this challah:

I was in my first year at McGill, and became very connected to Rebbetzin Dena Hundert from the off-campus student run-shul. I was just rediscovering Torah and Judaism for myself and thought it would be fun to come to the women’s Rosh Chodesh event. It turned out to be a challah baking event, and it was really fun and incredibly special for me. I had never made challah before, and that challenge, tied into the fact that Dena incorporated a different kavana (spiritual focus) with every step, really made the challah baking come alive for me.

Since that special moment in Montreal, thank God I have merited to make challah many times, and the recipe along with its kavanot have just grown and flourished along with my connection to God. Infusing the physical world with the spiritual allows Hashem’s light to permeate through the darkness and to lighten up our worlds.

Yummy and Sweet Challah Recipe

(Adapted from Rebbetzin Dena Rivkah Hundert’s recipe)

Before you start: always pre-measure ingredients…take a deep breath and focus your mind and heart towards what you want to pray for: what changes you want to make in yourself and in the Jewish nation & what elements and quantities will be required to institute these changes.

Ingredients:
Yeast:
1 cup warm-hot water
2 Tbsp honey
100 gram fresh yeast/ 40 gram dry yeast

Dough:
16 cups of whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp salt
1-2 eggs
1 cup oil (can use ½ applesauce)
3.5-4.5 cups water
1-2 cups honey (depending on desired sweetness)

Instructions (& Kavanot):

Yeast: Mix the honey and warm water together. Pour mixture onto the yeast (do not use metal because it will react oddly with the yeast). Set aside covered with a cloth for at least 10 min (the mixture should froth/lightly bubble on the surface by the end).

Yeast reminds us of the constant need to grow and mature into our truest selves, through the aid of those around us. The warm water is symbolic of an ideal personality; if we are too hot we will burn those around us, stunting their growth; if we are too cold, we will freeze those around us and not allow them to grow at all; but a warm person attracts everyone around them, inviting them to grow to their fullest potential.

The honey reminds us to sweeten our own dispositions towards those around us. Growth takes time and patience, therefore we need to set aside the yeast and be patient with ourselves as we take slow (and sometimes painful) steps in improving ourselves, allowing growth to take its course.

Dough:
Put all the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the bowl with the flour. Place salt in the well. Cover up the well (salt kills yeast) and make little trenches on the surface of the flour (not deep). Add the eggs, oil, honey, 3 cups water (save the rest to help moisten the dough as you knead. Knead by continuously folding the corners into the center for 5-15 minutes (do not beat the dough!). When the dough is poked, and comes back, it is ready.

Now is a good time to say any specific blessings or prayers for yourself and for other people. Separate the challa with the special blessing of “L’hafrish challah” [an olive sized amount of the dough should be separated. Either burn the separated challah, or double wrap it and throw it out.] Set aside in a warm place and let it rise covered for 45+ minutes.

Punch down your challah & braid it into desired shapes. Let it rise again for 30+ min. Bake on parchment paper for about 22 minutes at 350 degrees (depending on your oven & the size of your challa).

Kavanot

By making a well inside the flour we are consciously separating the good from the bad; recognizing what we do that is good, and bringing that to the surface; while placing at the bottom that which is not needed. However, every attribute we have can be used positively, as long as we have control over it, therefore, the salt is placed towards the bottom, being surrounded by good from all sides, so it is conquered by the good, ultimately coming to strengthen the entire mixture.

Making trenches on the surface of the flour represents the need to set proper boundaries for ourselves; using the Torah as a guidebook to nurture our thoughts, words, and actions, helping us know when and where we should draw ‘the line’ for ourselves, and for others.

Eggs represent the continuous cycle of life, reminding us to view ourselves within a greater framework and picture – we are a link in a very holy, important chain [eggs also allude to the women’s special role in creation, who provide the needed space (womb/home) necessary for a child to fully nurture, develop, and grow, until the child ultimately must leave, and continue his or her own journey].

The oil represents rising to the top, reminding ourselves that no matter what the obstacle or the challenge we come across, as individuals or as Jews, we will always prevail, always succeed; coming up stronger, and better than ever. [The prophets tell us we are going to appoint the Messiah with oil – the symbol of our ultimate rise to the top.]

The purpose of the water – to help unify the dough into one element – is a constant reminder to us of the need to be one entity, to be one body, both as individuals (whole, healthy) and as a nation; water also is a symbol for Torah, because just as water always flows from high to low, the source of Torah and life is always flowing from up-high to low.

We knead the dough because the Jewish people NEEDS! In order to become one entity within ourselves and with Am Yisrael we must come together in love, harmony, and understanding; therefore, we should pray our hearts out as we carefully and lovingly mix all the elements together to slowly make one body; because when we all come together, as individuals, and exert ourselves, lovingly, understandingly, with compromise we not only become one unbreakable body, but also ONE INFINITE SOUL…

This is why we separate the challah – to remember the loss and lack of our Holy temple, our loss of spiritual and physical completion – to remember the need to strive to be our fullest potentials, to contribute the most we can in order to regain our physical and spiritual centers. Remember: it takes time patience and work until we can ultimately taste the fruits of our labours 🙂

Related posts:

Moshe Katsav and the Blessing of Guilt
My Blizzard Birthday (15-Minute Mommy Peptalk)
Nourishing Generations

6 comments

  1. Beautiful! I assume you add the yeast mixture along with the eggs, oil, honey and water? (It doesn’t say…)

  2. Beautiful! can i add whati learned when i learned the kavanot of making challah from a special woman called Rachelli Miller in Yerushalayim: that water takes o nthe shape of whatever it is poured into, and so it also represents the flexibility that we need to adapt to changing surreoundings.
    salt is vital, but in large quantities can be scorchiing and destructive. it represents necessary criticism, which is needed in everyone’s life but only in small amounts. i was taught, when you measure salt, whatever measure you are using shake al ittle back into the packet again before you add it, to remind yourself htat you always need less than you think you do.
    and sugar (or honey), representing that sweetness and warmth which we should be showing to everyone around us, should be measured in abundance – make the measurement be overflowing!

  3. beautiful!

  4. From one busy Jewish mother to all others out there:

    This is really very beautiful if one has the time and/or headspace for it! Seriously, if and when I can grab the time to make challa I really don’t manage any kavannot except to ask Hashem fervently for enough time to get the dough made before the baby wakes up…
    I just hope that my belief in the simple power of the mitzva of taking challa is enough to give Hashem nachas and to earn me a nice fresh slice of olam haba….

  5. Jenny,
    I’ve been harried lately, and I just came upon this
    wonderful recipe which I would love to share with
    my girlies. Can you just clarify the amount of yeast.
    Is it both dry and fresh or one or the other?
    thanks, andrea

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