Jewish Prayers From the Heart and Pen of Alden Solovy

Sarah Rivkah: A Challah Baking Story

This is a sweet little story about the joy of baking challah and the ways we honor, love and add beauty to Shabbat. Much like the story Yaakov Shraga, it captures a moment in which one person experiences holiness in daily life. To listen along, click on the triangle in the bar below. The story follows.

Sarah Rivkah
Of all the things Sarah Rivkah does to praise her Maker’s Name, baking challah for Shabbat is her favorite. On Friday mornings she gets up early, washes her hands in cold water, and thanks G-d for granting her another day. She stokes the stove and wonders if, like her, the Sabbath Queen gets up early to prepare for Shabbat. Somehow, Sarah’s largest bowl is already in her hands, as if someone handed it to her. The flour and sugar and salt are already on the table, the eggs beaten, the yeast bubbling.
Sarah Rivkah kneads the dough, counting as she pushes the warm ball against the floured kitchen table. One, two three… It almost seems to knead itself, as if she had an extra pair of hands. Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven… She hears a voice, like a whisper, counting with her. Fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one… A warm wind, subtle as a breath, blows past her neck. And Sarah Rivkah, sensing the joy of Shabbat, begins to hum, “Shalom aleichem malachei ha-shalom. Bring peace to us, ye angels of peace.” Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine…
When the dough is ready, she puts it in a bowl in a warm spot near the oven to rise. She wipes the table and washes the dirty utensils. The dough has risen beyond the recipe, beyond her expectations. She divides the ball in half, and the halves in half. And from each of the lumps she makes three long strips of dough. In hardly a blink, there are four perfectly braided challot back in the warm spot to rise again. She glides through the kitchen on wings. Something has removed her weight, removed her burdens. Sarah Rivkah’s table is set, the warm, sweet smell of baking bread filling her home. She takes two challot from her oven—she doesn’t remember putting them in—and she replaces them with two more. When the last two are golden brown, Sarah takes them from the oven. She knows that they are done, but she taps them each once just to hear their hollow sound. And Sarah Rivkah, tired and happy, sits down in a wooden chair to smell the scent a little longer, to gaze at her candle sticks and kiddush cups, and to wonder, once more, if the Sabbath Queen gets up early to prepare for Shabbat.

© 2010 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved.

Postscript: Click the link to read more short, short stories of holiness and love of G-d.

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3 Responses to “Sarah Rivkah: A Challah Baking Story”

  1. T'mimah

    very sweet. Yashar koah. I think the Shabbes Queen is with her.
    I sent this to my husband. He loves to bake Challah for Shabbes.
    Shabbat Shalom

  2. mickijay

    Living alone and trying to work and keep busy, I cannot say that I am inspired to bake challah however, through this experience with Sarah, I can enjoy the mixing, rising,braiding, baking, smelling and feelings of spiritual satisfaction at the completion. My spiritual enjoyment comes with my weekly Shabbat morning services and Torah study at my shul with my rabbi and fellow congregants.

  3. tobendlight

    I’m the challah baker in my family and get a great deal of joy from it. Sarah Rivkah is a reflection of my challah-baking-prepare-for-Shabbat persona, just as Yaakov Shraga is a reflection of my even-in-grief-dance-for-G-d persona. When I wrote this it had been awhile since I’d actually kneaded by hand (love my two bread machines), so I threw some flour on the countertop and went at it in order to remember in my hands and in my heart that joyous feeling.


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