Last week our city of Los Angeles – along with many other locations – held the epic “Great Big Challah Bake.” Many women from all over our city gathered together in a huge room to mix the ingredients of “challah” together (flour, water, salt, sugar, oil, yeast). Together as a group, we each kneaded our dough, and then separate a piece off while making the special blessing. This is considered a “mitzvah” or good deed that Jewish women do each week in preparation for the Shabbos. The purpose of the event was to kick off a weekend called The Shabbos Project. This was the first part of a weekend of togetherness where Jewish families from all walks of life celebrated Shabbat together from Friday at sundown till Saturday at sundown.
Although I don’t make challah every week for Shabbos, I make it often enough. But something about the experience at that “Great Big Challah Bake” inspired me.
The experience – the kneading – was invigorating. The working with the dough really felt good, somehow better than it ever felt before.
At the Challah Baking gathering with hundreds of other women, I started off with some ingredients that was prepared on a tray. (Shout out to the high school girls in our community who helped with all the preparation!).
I kneaded the mush. Some of the flour was not mixing in properly and it was a bit too gooey. Then, as I mixed more it became more cohesive and smooth, but it was a bit dry. So I added a tiny bit more oil to get it to be just the right moisture. And then I kneaded and mixed, and tossed and turned it.
Then I let it sit and rise. I was chatting with the people at my table and listening to the inspiring speakers. When I took a look again, it had risen quite a bit!
I took the dough home, braided it, let it rise again, and baked it. When we ate it all the next night, it was better than challah I’d made in a long time.
And I recalled my mother telling me back in the day, “You really have to work with the dough. The more you work with it, the better it comes out.” And she’s right. (Didn’t they always tell us, “mother is always right?”)
But seriously, to me this is a huge lesson for life. The kneading and mixing of that dough is an analogy to the situations we find ourselves in throughout our lives.
When I have challenges in life, it’s helpful to work with what I’ve got and try to improve things (rather than complain!). Kind of like manipulating things, trying a creative idea, turning it over in my head, and then just letting it sit for awhile.
Then I turn around and the situation is (often) better. Hey, everything seems easier – lighter and fluffier – to deal with, braid and then form into a delicious result, after letting things sit for awhile.
Like those small things that I sweat (sometimes): The argument with a spouse, the pain in the foot, the sadness at moving away, the adult child’s poor choice, the difficulty dealing with a colleague, the feeling snubbed by someone, the guilty feeling of saying the wrong thing, and on and on.
How many of these things can be worked with creatively rather than mixing them in the same old way every time?
And how often can we just let the stuff sit and sit until it rises ever so slowly but surely to a higher and lighter texture?
I don’t know. For me, the challah preparation is so much more than an exercise in doing a mitzvah that Jewish women have been doing for centuries. It’s so much more than exercising my fingers and healing my arthritis.
It’s a reminder to me for working through the stuff in our life, without sweating it all. Just work with it. Then let it sit. Rise. And then stick it in that oven to bake.
Sometimes I’m really surprised at the great results.