Emor - Aunt Sadie & the Challah

This week’s Torah portion, more than any other, brings back precious memories, for it is the week of my Bat
Mitzvah, not at age 13, but at age 36.

I studied for nine months for this event with the ferocity of a tiger, rising each morning at 5:30 to go
downstairs and study. Remarkable, considering that I naturally am a late riser.

It was as if the divine energy of the Torah were flowing through my veins, giving me a zest I had never
before known. Part of what excited me about this Torah portion, Emor, was that it spoke about the large
part of my life that centered around the kitchen, giving, for example a detailed but puzzling recipe for
making challah.

(Lev. 24:5) gives instructions to the Kohanim, the priests. "And you shall take fine flour… two tenths of
an ephah shall be in one cake." I looked it up. An ephah is a dry measure equal to 1/10th of an omer,
which is equal to three se'ot. Not a very useful recipe for me, but nevertheless intriguing.

It reminded me of one of my favorite treats from my college years. During the time I was an undergraduate
at Wellesley, we had strict dorm rules, and no one was allowed to leave campus overnight without a note from
a parent specifying where one was staying and who would be the chaperone.

My Aunt Sadie, of blessed memory, lived in nearby Beacon Hill, and offered her apartment as an approved
home for me to stay in when I would have a date in Boston. Aunt Sadie had a teeny kitchen, but she was a
wonderful cook, and my favorite dish was her rice pudding.

I begged her for the recipe. "Vell, you take a bowl of cooked rice, add a couple of eggs, a little milk, a
lot of sugar, and a few handfuls of raisins."

Hmmm. No how many times I tried, my rice pudding never tasted as anything like Aunt Sadie’s. I
couldn’t match her recipe. How much rice is a bowl of rice? How much milk is a little milk? How much sugar
is a lot of sugar?

Fortunately for us today, many fine bakers have figured out great recipes for Challah, and we can bake
our own, or buy frozen Challah to defrost and heat, or buy already prepared bakery Challah.

Whether we bake or buy, we can fulfill the essence of the Torah commandment concerning Challah, to set out
and prepare a sacred offering. The Torah says,

B’yom ha-shabbat, b’yom ha-shabbat,
ya’archenu lifnei Adonai.

"On each and every Sabbath
they (the priests) shall arrange it in order
before the Lord."

Leviticus 24:8

The key word in this sentence is ya’archenu, they shall arrange. In the time of the wilderness tabernacle, and the ancient Temple, 12 loaves of challah were arranged on the altar table, six to a row. Torah refers to challah as Lechem Ma’arechet, arranged bread.

Nowadays our homes and synagogues are the modern day version of the Temple. We are like the priests, and
it is up to us to arrange a sacred offering for our holy days.

Challah is also referred to as Lechem Panim, "Bread of the Faces" [of God]. It is through such a gift that we
can "see" the Faces of the Divine.

Challah is a perfect symbol of the Jewish faith, because it requires a partnership between God and us.
We need our Creator’s help to grow wheat, and our own efforts to convert the wheat into nourishing and
delicious bread. Challah is one of the ways we make God’s goodness not only visible, but tangible,
fragrant, and tasty.