Let’s try investigating who might be the primary suspect in the page turning life and death mystery whodunit set in Gan Eden. Many commentators have debated what might have been the real identity of the proverbial apple fed by Eve to Adam. Some say that the troublesome fruit was grapes and so the excuse for not following orders was that they were DUI. Others claim it was a fig, note the beginnings of the rag trade and multi-billion $ fashion industry was fig leaves. Still others say it must have been wheat because a baby can’t speak intelligently and say abba, eema until they’ve tasted wheat so that must be the “tree” of knowledge. We all know that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Like my mother of blessed memory used to council me – don’t ask for anything from your father when he first comes home from work, wait till he sits down and has a nice dinner before you hit him up. That’s what I call Chochmat Nashim – women’s wisdom.
Whether it is wheat, barley, spelt, rye & oats one of these 5 grains must be the major component of the substance we call bread upon which we can recite the Hamotzei Lechem Min Haaretz blessing. At classes with Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh at Kever Rachel in Beit Lechem – The House of Bread, we learned that the women have kept the tradition of what those obscure grains might actually be today and we can trust our ladies to remember correctly. The grains must be pulverized into flour to resemble the dust of the earth which Hashem used to mix with the dew that rose up from the garden floor and kneaded into the hunk of dough called man. So there’s your second major component – water. If the dough is made with juice it’s not called “bread” and gets the mezonot bracha.
Brit Melach – a covenant of salt is what our relationship with God is called. All life starts in the waters of the amniotic fluid slightly saltier than the sea. Something perpetual that preserves – it keeps the Dead Sea Dead and keeps meat and pickles edible and adds flavor and helps the leavening process. These are great metaphors for the process of getting nourished from our ancient heritage without getting moldy.
“Tov shem m’shemen tov,” (Kohelet 7:1), better a good name than the most extra virgin olive oil. We discovered an ancient Byzantian oil press in our front yard back in 1976 when we first moved to the moshav. We helped the Antiquities Department dig up the dig whose artifacts were carted off to the Rockefeller museum in East Jerusalem. Life on the moshav was very challenging in the early days of sporadic water supplies no phones and quiet isolation.
Paradoxically the more you crush an olive the more lovely oil it can produce. Isn’t that the diametric opposite of western striving for the “good life” = easy life? The oil of affliction softens our thick skin, making us sensitive to others suffering, lights up the darkest night of Chanukah and lightens our challah. The egg is a symbol of the cycles of life and death the first food served to a mourner after a funeral and the last food eaten before the fast of Tisha B’av, round and round we go. We make round challah with sweet raisins for a sweet New Year.
Hamtakat Hadinim, sweetening the judgment by adding a little brown sugar & honey to the yeast mixture otherwise the yeastie beasties can’t grow and bubble and do their job of lifting and uplifting. Simcha is like the sweetness of spirit that makes us rise up out of our sluggish laziness. Rise up, get going! Put on some Jewish music with a nice steady rhythm, Reb Shlomo’s Mizmor Shir Le’Yom Hashabbos is a great one for kneading the challah.
Mix 1½ cups warm water with 2 teaspoons yeast and ¼ cup brown sugar and watch it bubble up. Add one egg, three tablespoons of oil and approximately 5 cups of flour, best a mixture of white and whole wheat add 2 teaspoons of salt and knead into soft elastic dough. We need to stay open and stretch ourselves to share our bounty with our many guests every week. To say the bracha on separating the “challah” we must have a total of 2.2 kilo or 5 pounds of flour which we get if we make 3 batches of dough.
It’s a moment of favor when the gates of heaven are open when women fix the mistake of Adam and Eve. They should have waited for Shabbos when they would have been able to eat from both the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. By separating the little piece of challah we deny ourselves a tiny bit of pleasure now in exchange for infinite pleasure. Make sure your tears mix into the dough as you pour out your heart and ask for everything you want or need for yourself and friends; healing for a loved one, a soul mate, parnassa, whatever comes to mind and heart, just let it flow. Let the dough rise till double then sculpt into your favorite shapes, let rise again, brush with a little beaten egg. Sprinkle on some seeds, those nutrient packed little germs of life encoded with DNA = Alef Bet codes to remind us of life giving manna in the desert and bake at 350° around ½ hour till golden brown and smells yummy. Listen carefully; it should sound hollow when tapped. We use all our senses to gain an intuition of when the time is right to enjoy our fruits.