Although I’m relatively new to baking challah, having developed the habit when the pandemic began, I’ve taken some pride in the outcome. I love the smell of bread rising and then baking, the careful work of trying to braid consistent strands and the golden-brown glaze where the egg covers the outer crust. Most important, after I’ve said the blessing and broken off a piece of challah, I love the delicious taste of that first bite, knowing that I’ve created a ritual that makes Shabbat and the Jewish holidays even more meaningful.
So, when I peered into my oven a little over a week ago, I was somewhat perturbed to see the round challah I’d baked for Rosh Hashanah stuck to the grate above it. I had three pans in the oven – one for the round challah and two others for two mini challahs—so I’d stuck this one on the bottom shelf, obviously too close to the rack above.
I gently slid it out, observing the black marks that the rack had created on the otherwise unblemished surface. It wasn’t my best effort anyway. I’d taken the easy route of rolling the dough into six balls and putting them in a round pan, instead of interweaving the strands to make a round bread. Now, it had dark stripes on it, too.
Here was a metaphor for life – an imperfect challah to greet the start of a new year, when we imperfect human beings ask God to forgive our sins and pray that we will be inscribed in the Book of Life for good health, happiness and peace.
We have experienced more than three years of challenges, worrying about how to live safely with a pandemic blighting our world. We’ve done the best we could, masking up, avoiding crowds and interior public places, sanitizing surfaces and finally becoming immunized. For a while, we felt relatively safe going into synagogues and to friends’ homes, restaurants and other places. But here we are, again, with the same concerns we had when this scourge began. Can we safely see our children and grandchildren, travel, enjoy life?
My challah was blemished. But it matters not with the world crying out for justice in so many ways. We struggle with so many issues: hunger, ill health, climate change, science deniers, refugees, oppression, denial of women’s control over their own bodies, the right of everyone to vote and the endless drumbeat of culture wars.
Organizations like Hadassah advocate and educate to enhance the well-being of people around the world, but Hadassah, despite being the largest Jewish women’s organization in the US, is only one organization, and there is so much to do. The list of issues goes on and on and, sometimes, it seems too much to absorb.
What kind of world are we creating for our children and grandchildren? And yet, we still focus on trivial things, like whether our challah is perfect.
It’s a new year. I’m going to try to forget mundane concerns and strive to make things good enough–to take the energy I waste on attempting to make things perfect and use it to make things better for those who can’t do that for themselves. I may not succeed, but I’ll never know unless I try.