I love homemade challah.
I’ll be honest, my first attempts tasted floury, yeasty, or dense and heavy.
But after a few false starts, I figured it out, and now my favourite part of the Shabbos meal is a piece of steaming hot, fresh challah with some homemade dips.
It’s Friday afternoon, and my challah dough is ready to be shaped.
I’m running late, and not really feeling the spiritual power of the moment. I just want to make the bracha, separate a piece of challah, and braid those loaves as fast as possible, before I need to pick up my girls from school.
As I am about to start, my four-year-old wanders in.
“Yes!” He exclaims. “We are making challah.”
I know. I know. I should be thrilled that my son is so eager to help his mother and do a mitzvah. But all I can see are my dreams of speed braiding 10 loaves of challah fading away and being replaced by flour everywhere and sticky, doughy hands.
My son dutifully washes his hands with soap and water, spraying the kitchen floor in the process, all the better to mix with the inevitable sprinkling of flour soon to follow.
His hands still have marker all over them, but his face is shining as he stands on a chair next to me. His hands look so small next to mine as we place them over the challah.
I’ve been asked to have people in mind for a speedy recovery as I make the blessing over the challah dough.
I’m still stressed and rushing, but looking at my son’s wide eyes and spread fingers over the dough helps centre my thoughts.
I recite names for recovery and the bracha, carefully separating a piece of the dough. My son is completely immersed in the moment, barely blinking, as he listens to every word, whispering a soft “amen”.
I rub my hands with oil and, of course, my son wants some as well. I sprinkle the counter with flour, and start rolling out the dough.
I separate a small piece for my son.
“More, mommy. I want to make a big challah like you.”
I hand him another piece of dough, and quickly roll out and braid three challahs.
I look over at my son, his tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration. He’s rolled out three ropes of dough and is attempting to braid them.
“Mom, help me make the twisty thing!”
Holding his hands, we carefully weave the strands under and over. Two strands are of similar size, but one is much thinner and longer.
Finally, it is finished. A more lopsided challah I have never seen. But my son’s face! “Look mommy, it’s just like yours!” We carefully place it on the baking sheet.
I return to braiding more challahs.
“Mommy, my hands are dirty. Turn on the sink.”
His hands are covered with sticky challah dough. He rubs them in the water, and now the sink has pieces of dough floating around the water. He dries his hands on a clean hand towel, rubbing wet and still doughy hands all over it.
He takes the rest of his dough and carefully rolls it into one long strand. “I’m making a round one for Rosh Hashanah.”
I’m on my last challah. He’s still shaping his round challah.
I mix an egg to brush on top.
“Please, mommy, can I brush them?”
He moves his chair next to the trays of challah. Carefully dipping the brush into the egg wash, he paints each challah, and most of the trays.
I snap a picture, and post on Instagram.
“What a great egg wash helper,” my sister-in-law messages me almost instantly.
I look around the kitchen. There’s challah in the oven, already filling my house with that special pre-Shabbos scent; there’s trays of challah waiting to go into the oven, with globs of egg wash randomly placed; there’s flour on the counter and on the floor, mixed with water; the sink has blobs of dough stuck to the sides; and I am late to pick up my girls from school.
But my son. He’s in heaven. He’s made challah for Shabbos with mom. I guess he is a great egg wash helper. And a pretty amazing challah baking assistant in general.
He made me present and aware of the power of what I was doing. There’s nothing better than that.