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Challah Baby

So many jokes you could make with that one... in fact, a lot of my friends use the word challah like holla... cheesy I know. But I am talking about the mitzvah of taking challah and the magic it can do...

So, women were give three special mitzvot (commandments) -

Challah - separating a portion of the dough, saying the blessing, and burning it
Niddah - family purity... meaning you go to the mikvah monthly and stay separate from your husband during your period
Hadlakat Nerot - lighting the shabbis candles

But let's talk about challah here.

Basics first.
When you are setting out to bake a true challah, you need to use at least 12-14 cups of flour. Many authorities say, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of challah and to be legitimate enough to separate, it needs to be about 5 pounds of dough. After you have gone through the long process of combining ingredients and kneading and waiting for it to rise and then punching it down and letting it rise again, you will separate a section of the challah out to be burned (see here for more info on that). This is technically the challah. At this point you will say - harai zeh Challah (this is challah) and then the blessing - “Blessed are you, adonai our G!d, who sanctified us with these commandments and commanded us to separate challah.” Then you shape your challah and put that small piece in the oven and burn it.

Why do we burn it? Because that piece, the one that is designated challah, was only to be eaten by the kohains (the priestly tribe) which was easy when the Holy Temple stood but... since it has been destroyed twice and not rebuilt, we can't give it to the kohain. SO we burn it so no one accidentally eats it.

Now on to the magical mystical side.

A friend who is dear to me has been struggling. To protect her privacy, we will call her D and her husband M. She has a beautiful daughter and a wonderful husband but they desperately want to have more children. She has struggled for over a year and a half to get pregnant again. I was fortunate enough to travel to Mexico with her and her family in January. She was deep in the midst of this struggle. She contacted the Chabad rebbitzin in Cancun about doing a mikvah in the ocean to help with her infertility. I was with her that night on the beach. It was so beautiful. Not really the weather, or the scenery... it was a blustery night and we were on a public section of the beach that was deserted but full of resorts. But what was beautiful was this mother's conviction to her unborn children. She swallowed her fears and went into the ocean with the rebbitzin (rabbi's wife). She dunked the requisite three times, said the blessing, and ran out of the cold water. I caught her with towels and we took a cab home. It was as if a calm had settle over both of us. And I prayed. I prayed that she could conceive and that her body would hold and nurture this child. Sadly, it did not work. She has, over the past year, had two losses.

I hadn't seen her in a while until the beginning of December. We were all getting together to celebrate the birth of beautiful twins. Our mutual friend, another Chabad rebbitzin, had just given birth to these miracle babies and it was fitting to see her again at this event. We caught up and I hugged her beautiful little girl. It was 6 days later that I got the plea.

"I am sending you this email because I think you may participate and because you may know others willing to participate. I am looking for at least 40 people to bake challah and to perform the mitzvah of separating challah during the 24 hour period between sundown Thursday, December 17 and sundown Friday, December 18.

There is a tradition and a belief that with the unified prayer of at least 40 people and performance of this mitzvah conception may be made possible. M & I have been trying to conceive for a year and a half. We have had two losses in the past year. It is said that if you “...pray on behalf of a friend with similar needs; Hashem answers you first," I have been baking challahs for a few years now and have seen the miracle of conception in many people. Today I am asking for your help."

First, how can you deny such a heartfelt plea? How could I deny this from a woman who I shared that beautiful mikvah with? How could I deny my family a delish challah? :)

But I needed to help find some more women. I found three more and the list topped out at 61 from all over the world. On this list were women who had NEVER met M & D. We all came together over a 24 hour period to bake challah, think about this family, and hope and pray for them.

My challah was a bit rushed. I had to get home from work and I was tired, I went to a friends house to have her daughters help me but they were grumpy and I was rushed, I used her kitchen-aid mixer (I WANT ONE!), got the dough together and then it had to rise... that took forever and we were all tired by the time it was ready so I took my dough home, threw it in the fridge with the intent to finish it the next day. Friday I got home from work, turned the oven on and took the dough out of the fridge to let it get to room temp... I'm running out of time! It's 5:30, dinner starts at 6:15... guests at my parents house, everyone is waiting for my challah... But I wouldn't rush it. I had to put every intention into the separation and the braiding. I couldn't cheat these challot. Baked and ready to go, I literally pulled a challah out of the oven, tossed it in a glass casserole dish, covered in foil, and dashed to my car. Steaming hot still, I pulled up to my parents' house at just after 7. They had JUST started shabbis! We hadn't gotten to the challah yet! What luck! Still hot from my oven, I put my challah on the plate next to the store bought one. It wasn't as pretty but it sure had a lot more love.
We did the motzi and dug in. A chorus of groans of enjoyment went up. It was delish! My father's tradition is to give the priestly benediction to everyone present. He calls it the holy huddle. We huddled, he gave us the blessing and then I told the 10-15 guests about the story behind the challah. I asked they keep D in their thoughts and intentions when they ate it. It was an amazing moment.

We don't know if our prayers or mitzvahs helped D get pregnant yet. We don't know anything other than 61 women who may not have baked challah that week, baked. We did something that wasn't easy, that took some of our time and we dedicated it to a friend, sister, cousin, stranger. We were unselfish for a minute.

And I don't believe that my challah separation was noticed by Hashem and Hashem wrote a sticky note to remind G!dself to make sure D got pregnant. But what I do believe is that in that 24 hour period, D was so loved, cherished, and hopefully realized that so many people out there are pulling for her and her family.

Maybe that's the kinda boost those eggies needed.

A great talk - On Challah and Mothers by Sarah Esther Crispe

(originally posted to my blog at Patheos)


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