Every Shabbat I try to do something special for the family. I’ve made it my custom to bake challah every week. I admit, there are some weeks that slip past me and I can’t get the dough up, but at least it’s a goal. Our family, like all families, is very busy. With Dahvi in high school, Yoni in fourth grade, and my Shabbat schedule, we seem to be going in too many different directions. When they were younger, it was so much easier to get the family together for Shabbat, have dinner, light the candles, say Kiddush and enjoy the challah. But today, dinner is optional. However, Shabbat is not. Even if it means we gather in the kitchen at 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon, we have to find time to celebrate Shabbat together somehow. These few minutes are precious to me and I want them to be meaningful and beautiful. That’s why I bake challah every week; carefully braiding it and baking it just the way we like it.
We are told to make Shabbat and all of the mitzvot beautiful – chidur mitzvah. This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, makes a big deal out of making something beautiful. Almost half of the portion is spent carefully describing in great detail, the garments for Aaron, Moses’ brother and appointed High Priest for the Tabernacle, and his son’s. The ephod of gold, blue, purple and crimson yarns. The lazuli, amethyst, emerald, and sapphire stones. The woven work of the tunic that will then be adorned with gold threads and bells all along the edges so that God might hear him when he enters the sanctuary. These adornments are meant not just to identify who the Cohanim are, but rather, to make the mitzvah of their work elevated because of the beauty of how they are adorned.
On Shabbat, we hope to make things a bit different than the rest of the week. We hope to adorn it with a table set with the candles, Kiddush cups, and challah. We braid the challah to show that this is not just an ordinary loaf of bread. We braid the challah to bring some beauty to our Shabbat. Even though the meal might be as simple as ordering pizza, because that’s what we have time for, how can we add something beautiful to our Shabbat table for that moment? How can we make the mitzvah of observing Shabbat that much more beautiful so that it does not just roll into the rest of the week?
I know not everyone has time to bake challah every week – I put the dough up on Thursday afternoon and bake it that night. But, we all have time to add a little something different and beautiful to our tables, our kitchen counter, our home, to physically acknowledge the beauty of Shabbat is with us. This coming Shabbat, consider bringing out the candlesticks you might not have used in a while. Or fill the Kiddush cup and offer the blessing for just a moment. Or even set a tzedakah box out as a reminder at the end of the week that the change we have in our pockets or wallets can go to do some good for someone else bringing beauty to their lives.
Yes, life is busy and sometimes we are going in so many different directions that we don’t think one small act of making Shabbat beautiful will make a difference, but try it. You might be pleasantly surprised that a little chidur mitzvah, making a mitzvah beautiful, can make such a difference in a week.
If you want to try baking your own challah, here’s the recipe I use each week. Then get creative and try some other ingredients to your liking. Make it your own.
1 cup hot water
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons yeast
Mix them all together in a bowl and let the yeast start to do it’s work.
In another bowl:
½ cup oil
½ cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
5-6 cups flour. (I sometimes use wheat or combine wheat and white flour)
Add the yeast mixture.
I mix it all in a Cuisinart. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and let rise till doubled or when you can get to it.
Divide the dough into 3, 4 or 6 and braid. Here’s one link to get your started to braiding your challah.
Brush with egg wash – 1 egg scrambled with a little water.
Oven 350 degrees for 45 minutes (or less if you like it a little underbaked). Tap on it, if it sounds hollow, it’s done. However, pay attention to the challah as it bakes. If it starts to get a little too brown on top, put a piece of foil lightly over the top.