Shlissel Challah – a Key to Wisdom

Controversy is raging around this tradition, dating back to Middle Ages. Since we have laboriously and thoroughly divested our homes of all leavened bread in order to celebrate Passover, as we are commanded, Jewish women are faced with a task of baking the first challahs of the year. So we get creative and insert a little key – yes, an actual key! – into one of the challahs. Surprise!

Shlissel Challah 1.jpg

Here is my little key, wrapped in foil. Some women use their house keys, and I’ve heard of some wealthier ones who used to bake in safe deposit box keys. You get the idea: those ladies believe that baking a Shlissel Challah (Key Challah) will ensure a year of financial prosperity. Many authorities challenge this seemingly innocent custom, citing Biblical injunction against all omens, since finances and all our worldly possessions are in the Hand of the A-mighty. Nevertheless, we women are, perhaps, even more “stiff-necked” than men, so we stubbornly continue sticking keys into the first challahs after Passover. Some of us get even more creative and fashion key-shaped challahs.  Is there, perhaps, a deeper meaning to those delicious creations?

Image result for emotions gif

Contrary to Mr Spock, we human beings have emotions. Modern psychology recognizes four major categories of feelings: sad, angry, mad, and happy. The rest of our emotions, the entire spectrum of them, are only variations. Does anything bother you about this list? It disturbs me that 75% of our emotions are supposedly negative and only 25% are positive. The Jewish view differs; Kabbalah teaches us that there are seven major emotional states, and each one of them has seven more, to the total of 49. Thus, on the second day of Passover we start counting Omer (this used to be a daily offering to the Temple, but nowadays, when we, tragically, do not have a Temple, all we can do is count). We count 49 days, and on each day we unlock yet another gate of positive emotion and character trait, until finally, on the last day of counting, we merit to unlock the Gate of Wisdom. To me, this is what Shlissel Challah represents, in accord with “Ethics of Our Fathers” which states,  “Who is wealthy? The one who rejoices in his lot.”

Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, who lived in the 2nd century CE, has shared Kabbalah, the mystical meaning of Torah, by authoring Zohar, “The Book of Light,” that contains this, as well as myriads of other incredible insights. Since the teaching of Torah was forbidden by the Roman authorities at the time, he incurred wrath of the local Roman procurator and had to hide in a cave for 13 years, together with his son. There, it is said, he would have such distinguished visitors as Our Teacher Moses and the Prophet Elijah, among others, who came to learn with him. When he eventually emerged from the cave, he went to the nearby village of Meron. He didn’t start teaching or preaching; instead, he asked the villagers,”How can I help you? If there is anything that needs fixing, I’ll fix it for you.” No wonder the day of his passing, which falls on 33rd day of counting Omer, is celebrated by thousands of people making pilgrimage to his grave side in Meron. Rabbi Shimon admonished his son and his students on the day of his passing to “mark this day with joy” (chabad.org), since the righteous person’s passing means he has surely entered the Gate of Wisdom. 

Shlissel Challah 2.jpgThis is what Shlissel Challah means to me – Chochmah (wisdom), achieved not by finding a little key in a key-shaped challah, but by stepping out of an ivory tower to apply learning to practical tasks, “to fix what needs to be fixed.” This year, our guest for this special Shabbos was a dear friend who is a cellist. For him, and for our memories going back almost 40 years, I fashioned my challah into a “Violin Key” (Treble Clef); it is still a key, isn’t it? The little key was safely tucked inside, and as we made the blessing over challahs, we held our breath: who will get the special slice?

Shlissel Challah 3

The musical Shlissel Challah did lose much of its shape, as the dough was rising, but our friend was just as happy to discover the key in his slice! To follow my family tradition, he was required to extend blessings to all present. On his behalf, I am hereby sending blessings to all of you, Beautiful People: may we merit to enter the Gate of Wisdom while still on this earth and start fixing what needs to be fixed here!

The recipe for my whole wheat / spelt challah is found here.

Enjoy!

48 Comments Add yours

  1. And Blessings to you, too!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    CHALLAH REMINDS ME OF THE SWEET BREAD OF HEAVEN!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, darling, and you are so right: two challahs required on Shabbos and holidays represent the manna from heaven collected every day, but a double portion on Fridays, to last through Shabbos. Also, sesame seeds are symbolic of manna. Many blessings to you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am blessed by you and these posts! Hope you don’t mind my sense of humor. And I love challah bread when I can get it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I love your sense of humor and truly appreciate your interest in my humble funky cooking and writing!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Many great things come from humble cooking!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Perhaps; anyway, I enjoy it.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. As I would…as I do most of my own! 🙂

        Like

  3. I love the history. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your interest, dear Jeanne!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ren says:

    I love your key choice…very clef-er indeed!

    I have discovered, “How may I be of service to you?” are perhaps the grandest words spoken to another. Wonderful info and I thank you deeply.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Ren, and I love your play of words! Many blessings to you and your son.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve seen key shaped challa before, but to my knowledge, they didn’t have an actual key placed inside. Live and learn! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Ronit. Yes, they are different minchagim, and all of them have absolutely no Halachic background; so every woman does what she thinks is better.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a lovely way to think of that tradition, we do need wisdom to start fixing things here and i pray we receive plenty and use it well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your wise comment, dear Mimi!

      Like

  7. I do like your treble clef idea

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you so much, Derrick. We musicians are funky people.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. purpleslob says:

    Many blessing to you too, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And the same to you, my favorite purple person.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. lghiggins says:

    I don’t know about men, but I am sure most women experience more than four emotions just in one day. I think psychology is interesting, but not always accurate.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you, dear Linda. As “real doctors” say (as opposed to us, talking doctors), if you can’t see it, it’s not science, but art. And as Oscar Wilde noted, “Art is anything you can get away with.” So we try to get away with classifying things noone can see.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I was unfamiliar w/ this tradition. How lovely that you shaped the key into a clef! As for the temple, I believe that will be rebuilt someday, Dolly. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Anna, for your kind comment. Yes, we have believed that the Temple will be rebuilt for two thousand years, and still pray for it every day.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. A lovely idea, and a wonderful tradition. Reading the word “Shlissel” i had to smile, remembering the german word “Schlüssel”. Its Jiddisch, right? 😉 Best wishes for the week. Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course it’s Yiddish, and in some Yiddish dialects it’s actually pronounced “Schlussel.” t’s a purely Ashkenazic (“Ashkenaz” imeans German in Hebrew), and Sephardic Jews (“Sepharad” means Spanish) don’t do it, other than my Moroccan daughter-in-law, who adopted it from me and loves it.
      Thank you so much, Michael, and you have a great week as well.

      Like

  13. oldpoet56 says:

    Very good article Dolly. When I read from your work I always learn, you help to give me a broader view of wisdom and I thank you for that. I agree with you, 4 states of mind is quite inaccurate. I am going to reblog this one for you, I hope that you are able to have a blessed week my friend, G-d bless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Ted! Do you know that I am still unable to leave comments on your site? Just letting you know that I do read your posts and appreciate them.
      I hope you are well! Many blessings to you and yours!

      Like

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, dear friend!

      Like

  14. daisydust02 says:

    That’s a lovely way to think of that tradition.

    Like

    1. Thank you for understanding our tradition, dear friend!

      Like

  15. What a lovely idea and informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Rozina.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Reblogged this on koolkosherkitchen and commented:

    I keep repeating myself, Beautiful People, not only because I I am very short on time to write new posts (I do have some in the making, though), but also because the message of this post bears repetition: during this time of global isolation, let’s pull together and start fixing what needs to be fixed in the world!

    Like

  17. Thank you for sharing the wonderful History lesson. Very cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Jeanne!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are very welcome. it is always a pleasure. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are a sweetheart! 😻

        Liked by 1 person

  18. This is a very interesting tradition, Dolly. I have never heard of it before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not universally widespread; it is limited to certain communities, but I think it is very meaningful.
      Thank you so much for stopping by, dear Roberta!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Well worth reading again at this current time

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Derrick.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s