Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blessings and Challah

Within Jewish tradition there are many moments that are considered auspicious for increasing blessing in one’s life. These can be special moments in one’s prayer, such as the meditation recited when the Amidah (Shemonah Esrei/18 Benedictions) prayer is completed. Or they may be specific moments at a life cycle event, such as during a chuppah (wedding canopy) or Brit milah (circumcision). Other times may be during the performance of a mitzvah, such as “taking challah” when making bread, about which it is written: “You shall further give the first of the yield of your baking to the priest, that a blessing may rest upon your home” (Ezekial 44:30).

Challah has always had special significance. The Midrash states that challah was one of three ways in which the tent of Sarah was blessed. “As long as Sarah lived, there was blessing on her dough [challah]” (Genesis Rabbah 60:16). For this reason challah is one of the three mitzvot considered the special responsibility of women. (Click here for more.)

An integral part of making challah (or, in fact, any bread) is “taking challah,” an act that refers to the tithe of bread given to the priests in the days of the Temple (Numbers 15:20). Today, since there is no Temple, it is customary to separate a small portion of dough and burn it. (Click here for more details.)

The process of making dough is, according to mystical traditions, filled with opportunities to add individual prayers, particularly if one is making a large enough amount of dough to “take challah” with a blessing. The concept of “power in numbers,” also found in Judaism, has led, over the last decade or so, to the popularity of having 40* women - either gathered together or in their own homes - making challah and “taking challah” with prayers for the benefit of a specific individual(s), such as one who is ill.

*There are many ideas of the power of the number of 40 that cannot be included in this Treat.

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