The Symbolism of Challah
By Yiskah Fantl
There are many beautiful insights on the mitzvah of Challah. While I only have room to encourage a few, I encourage everyone to continue to learn and grow from this extraordinary mitzvah.
Challah embodies the concept of taking something physical and elevating it to the spiritual. Not only are we giving physical nourishment to the people that are eating our challah, they are also being nourished spiritually with the ideas and blessing that we are thinking of and praying for while we are making our challah.
The aroma and taste of warm home baked challah is unparalleled. Making challah is a spiritual experience, and there are a great deal of blessings and insights in each of its ingredients.
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. As we add the yeast, we should pray for protection for ourselves, our families, Israel, the IDF, and all of the Jewish people.
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 G0d 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.
We then let the dough rise.
My next post will discuss the actual mitzvah of taking challah, delicious recipes, and tips!
Yiskah grew up in Worthington Ohio and attending the Ohio State University. She met her husband at the OSU Chabad house. After graduating from Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya seminary in Jerusalem, she moved to Cleveland with her husband. She currently works at Mosdos and loves making different and healthy food.