Feel free to boo me for my pun – I’m used to it. If you’re still here, hi! I hope you’re staying well! So far my loved ones and I are blessedly virus free, though getting a little stir-crazy as we pass the one month mark of the stay at home order.
I’m in a weird place right now. Before this thing hit, I was really happy. I was substitute teaching a few days a week, working on my vintage shop, and spending more time at home, which was really all I wanted when I quit my full-time job back in August 2019. I know I’m not alone in saying this during these tempestuous times, but the past few years have been really challenging. To recap: December 2017: lost my home (and my husband’s job) in the Thomas Fire. February 2019: almost lost my husband in a terrible accident that killed one of his Search and Rescue teammates and embarked his a major healing journey. March 2019: lost my beloved grandfather. March 2020: lost my essential income because of COVID-19.
There’s a word that keeps coming up there: lost. There’s been a lot of loss. And honestly, it’s OK. This is life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. In my best moments I’m able to thank God for giving me these trials instead of giving them to someone less equipped to handle them. I’m able to identify the blessings in the chaos and all the ways that loss and uncertainty have made me rely more on Him and strengthened my relationships with the people I love.
What’s happening right now is pretty minor. Marshall’s hours have been cut at work and for the first time since I was 15 I don’t have a “real” job, with a regular paycheck. Other people have been hit far harder, financially and health-wise, by this crisis. We’ve been in the process of buying a house and we had to postpone that due to the financial uncertainty, which has been frustrating. As ever, just when things felt like they were on a steadily forward moving path, we hit a roadblock. In my worst moments, I just want to know why. What am I being prepared for? Where is this windy, rocky road taking me, and do I even want to go there?
In all I’ve lost, I’m feeling lost. I’m a solid outline filled in with scribbles of languishing ambitions, half-formed personalities, and battling neuroses. I’ve got a mess of gifts that I’m not sure what to do with. I really want to turn this blog into a place where my passions can meet – photography, writing, reading, music, homemaking, vintage – but it keeps turning out messy. I can’t find the focus that I need. I don’t know how to make all of me, all of my mess, into something palatable and consumable, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe I can’t because I’m not supposed to be. Maybe I should just start where I am and make something with what I have.
That brings me to what I have been doing: making challah. It’s easy, requires fairly few ingredients, looks beautiful, and tastes amazing. I use this recipe from Kitchn and have started making a loaf a week so that Marshall and I can eat it as toast and sandwiches all week. I find the whole process fairly meditative and it always makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, which gets me through some bad days.
Out of curiosity, I decided to research if there is any spiritual symbolism behind baking challah, and to my delight, there is! Here’s an excerpt from The Shabbos Project:
There are seven basic ingredients in a challah recipe; water, yeast, sugar, eggs, oil, flour, and salt. There is a special eighth ingredient that is unique to each and every one of us, and that is our souls. When we are making the challah we are putting our personal energy into the dough.
As we add each ingredient we can add a new blessing to our dough, which will enhance the spiritual blessings, for whoever is eating our challah will also ingest these blessings.
Water: Water represents Torah. Just as we cannot live without water we also cannot live without Torah. Water brings life and nourishment to all things, so it represents the attribute of chessed (kindness). As we add the water, we can think of something in our lives that we want G-d to bless us with in abundant kindness. It should flow down into our lives, just as water flows.
Yeast: Yeast is what enables our dough to rise. Yeast represents growth and expansion. So as we add the yeast, we can think of each one of our family members and friends and pray that they grow and expand in their emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Yeast also represents rising, rising to our full potentials. We ask that God help all of us rise to who we are meant to be in our fullest potential. Yeast in Hebrew is shmarim which comes from the same root shomer, which means protection.
Eggs: Eggs represent the renewal of the lifecycle and the potential of what is about to “hatch.” Again, while making the dough, we pray for life, children, and anything going on in our lives that we want God to reveal to us.
Oil: Oil represents anointing. Oil was used to anoint the Jewish kings. When adding your oil pour a little at a time “anointing” each one of your loved ones by name and pray for their specific needs.
Sugar: Sugar represents anything sweet in our lives, all the revealed good. We ask G-d for open blessings and open good at this time. Sugar also represents emunah (faith). When we have the proper faith then everything becomes sweet. Even the challenges in our lives we realize are all from G-d and all for the best.
Salt: Salt represents discipline or criticism. It is important to have this, but in smaller measure. When adding the salt we should shake a little off the top. As much as we feel we need to rebuke others, we could always give a little less rebuke than we feel is necessary. Salt also represents purification. We pray that anything that is toxic in our lives, minds, souls, and bodies be removed.
Flour: Flour represents sustenance, not only our livelihood, but also our relationships with others. We pray that G-d should bless us with a livelihood that we should use for the right reasons, and that He helps us sustain a relationship that might need some assistance, and thank Him for the relationships we do have that sustain us.
The last step in making the dough is to take all of these essential ingredients that bring their own important blessings and unify them. We think about the oneness of God and the oneness of the Jewish people, and as we knead the dough this is also a special time to pray for anything you, your family, friends, or the world needs.
This is something I want to keep in mind with my future challah making. It’s a great reminder that whatever I do should be done prayerfully and with intention (Colossians 3:23). It’s also a great opportunity to meditate on the fact that that which is imperfect can still be sustaining. Every time I make a loaf something is “wrong” with it: it’s lopsided, it’s too dense, it’s under-baked. I might get better with each iteration, but it’s never going to be perfect. Nonetheless, it still gets eaten. If I can look at my life and its microcosms in the same way, I think I will be a lot happier.
Not perfect but still good is better than not at all.