In Temple times, we were obligated to give 24 gifts to the Kohanim, among them, “challah” – a piece of every batch of dough. Kabbalists say that the blessings from this mitzvah are so great that every woman should try to make her own challah at least once a year.
Baking challah in honor of Shabbat also forms a deeply personal service. Aside from the personal prayer said while separating the challah, there are various kavanot (intentions) to have while preparing the dough.
Before beginning, it’s customary to put a coin in a charity box. Some recite chapter 90 of Psalms at this point, too. Think or verbalize that one is fulfilling the mitzvah of hafrashat challah.
As you pour water into the bowl focus on its symbolism of Torah and faith. Ask G-d to strengthen your faith and that of your family members. Water is a binding agent, pray for unity with G-d, within your family and our nation.
Oil signifies health and abundance. Request abundant health for your family. Oil is produced by crushing. The hardships of life are meant to manifest our essence and our light.
Add honey or sugar. Pray for a sweet life, full of love and acts of kindness. Am I sweet enough to those I interact with? Add a little more for extra sweetness in the week ahead.
Sprinkle in the yeast. Yeast symbolizes spiritual growth. Ask for positive growth. In Hebrew the word yeast, shmarim, is a cognate of to guard. Please, G-d, watch over us and protect us. As the yeast blooms pray for joy and happiness to bubble up in your life and that you should feel joy for others’ blessings.
While sifting the flour ask G-d to help you refine your sensitivities, to distinguish good from bad, to focus on the positive while discarding unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Some women sing Jewish songs while sifting. Flour represents sustenance; pray for “kosher” and abundant sustenance from G-d.
Keep the salt away from the yeast. Salt represents severity and limits. It’s crucial to know how to balance one’s own needs against those of one’s family and work. But these must not be overdone or harsh, so shake off a little salt.
If you add eggs, think about fertility and that everything you put your hand to should be blessed with fruition.
While you knead the dough, pray. This is an auspicious time to recite the names of those seeking their mate, health, good livelihood. When the dough is smooth (or you’re finished praying ) ’anoint’ the dough with oil. Ask G-d to send us our anointed one – Mashiach.
Cover the dough and set it to rise (dance). Once it’s doubled in size, punch down the dough and knead it (you can pray some more here).
While standing, recite the blessing “lehafrish challah.” Separate a piece of dough and lift it up. Say, “Behold, this is challah.” Recite the techinah. Burn the separated dough and discard it. Now you are ready to shape and bake your loaves.
Thank you Mrs. Tzivia Chaya Rosenthal for allowing us to film her challah-making service.
The kavanot shared here are from Mrs. Devorah Heller, a.k.a. The Challah Lady and Mrs. Miriam Rhodes of Bat-Ayin, Israel.