As you knead your challah dough, surrounded perhaps by many other women who have come to do the same, no doubt you are enveloped by a feeling of heartwarming unity — exactly as was intended. If the mitzvah of challah is not unique, special and empowering enough on its own, its impact is only magnified when performing it together with hundreds of others — so many individuals with personal thoughts and prayers going through their minds as they push and pull the resilient dough, yet still, doing it as part of a greater whole.
The community challah bake events are rooted in The Shabbos Project, a global endeavor which, to date, has grown in leaps and bounds. The point is that Jews from around the world, of all backgrounds and affiliations, should come together to celebrate Shabbat. Every community chooses what they organize, as does every individual choose to what extent they participate.
But what happens after the great Challah Bake? What happens after the beautiful Shabbat dinner? What happens once the Havdalah flame is extinguished and the new week, month, and year has begun?
For many participants, Shabbat is already an inherent part of their lives. A gift that is hopefully boosted in value when celebrated together with others who are either seldom/never before Shabbat keepers. It’s hard not to appreciate the beauty that is Shabbat on a spiritual – and even practical – level. But what about the first-timers and the some-timers? What happens when the challah has been served, and the embers have died down?
As I took my leftover challah from last week and turned it into croutons, it dawned on me that, for each of us, the Shabbat experience — whether weekly, yearly or otherwise – will be what we make of it. For some, every last bit of challah will be devoured (or tossed) and not seen or thought of again until the next Shabbat comes around. For others, the leftover challah might be carefully set aside to make French Toast on Sunday morning, allowing the comfort and warmth of the weekly family gathering to seep into the mundane. And for others still, the leftover challah will be expertly cut into square pieces, lovingly seasoned and toasted till dry enough to preserve into the coming week and longer. The resulting bites of crispy deliciousness can be used to enhance salads, soups, any dish really, and even on their own. Because nothing about them is ordinary. They were born of spirituality, togetherness and love. The spice of Shabbat is inherent within them. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that in each day of their week, month and year? Some might even believe the byproduct to be better than the original! When we repurpose the gifts of Shabbat, essentially we are prolonging their life, and, of course, their affect on our own lives, too.
So whether you are hosting or participating in the Shabbat Project this week, don’t forget the real purpose of these gatherings. When all is said and done, don’t let it be said and done. Let the embers of the Shabbat lights continue to ignite your week. Let the energy you have gained from the ‘extra soul’* and spending Shabbat with others – who may observe more or less than you – be continued and revitalize you in some way during the coming week. And don’t forget that, despite the project’s vast reach, someone out there is spending Shabbat alone. Or maybe not experiencing Shabbat at all. This could be for any number of reasons; perhaps because of ignorance, but possibly by choice. Or ‘choice’. One thing is for certain, we were given light to share light. The biggest way we can give back to God for the undeniable gift of Shabbat is by sharing it. All it takes is two small candles…
* Neshama Yesera / Neshama Yetera – the extra soul we receive each Shabbat.