Shlissel Challah – a Key to Wisdom

This Challah, fashioned in the shape of a treble clef, or “G” clef, was originally made a couple of years ago to honor a musician friend who spent with us the first Shabbos after Pesach. This year we are blessed – and immensely excited! – to have the two youngest grandchildren the entire weekend, Shabbos and Sunday. It is little Shira’s birthday on Shabbos and her older brother’s birthday on Sunday. Since our son plays piano and guitar and all his children play keyboard and sing, I have repeated the original musical design together with this post.

See the source image

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!

71 Comments Add yours

  1. Such a beautiful story, and the party looks like so much fun! By the way, I love your recipes.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, dear Marie!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There is much wisdom in the positive emotions points. I am pleased about your grandchildren

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Derrick. I’ve been cooking and baking non-stop, all their favorite dishes and treats.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. CarolCooks2 says:

    How lovely that you get to have your grandchildren for the weekend I am sure they are loving it as are you and it’s their birthdays as well …Fun times 🙂 I love the story of the keys and the bread looks delicious…:) x

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Carol! Now, who gets the key…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        That is the question.. Haha.. Good fun.. X

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Sumith says:

    Beautiful post. I hope you had a great time with the family 😍

    Liked by 3 people

    1. So good to see you here, dear Sumith! I missed your wonderfully artistic recipes. Thank you so much for stopping by and for a lovely comment.

      Like

  5. Doug Thomas says:

    What a delightful custom!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Doug!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Doug Thomas says:

        So much to learn from your postings, Dolly! And they come with recipes for dishes everyone can enjoy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are very kind, Doug. I am just having fun with it, that’s all.

        Like

      3. Doug Thomas says:

        They help me feel I’m using my computer time producti8vely! (I spend too much time “playing” on the computer, I fear, a side effect of COVID-19.)

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I thank you again, dear friend. I am also getting busy as it is the end of this semester, and students are running high anxiety, as usual. I have no “play time,” answering frantic e-mails that pop up any time day and night.

        Like

  6. GP says:

    Such wonderful, long term traditions.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, GP.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it’s a fun and beautiful tradition!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Dorothy!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. 15andmeowing says:

    I had never heard of baking a key in the challah. Very interesting and I like your creative twist for your guest.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, darling!

      Like

  9. An excellent tradition, to celebrate the key to wisdom. May we all make Wisdom our kinswoman, as Solomon said in the book of the Proverbs. (At least, that’s what i was taught to call it.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s what it’s called, and I am familiar with this quote, dear Mimi. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!

      Like

  10. purpleslob says:

    TY for the purple font at the beginning!! ❤ The key finder doesn't get any money reward?? lol
    What a huge blessing to have your son and family!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No money reward but the assurance of success for the whole year. It seems that you are not the only purple person in my life, darling; my granddaughter Shira is into pinks and lavenders nowadays. We got a purple bedding set for her. Excitement rides high!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. purpleslob says:

        YAY!! Are youy allowed to show it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sure – and it was my grandson Ariel who got it and proudly displayed to us!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. purpleslob says:

        Congrats, Ariel!!

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Thank you, darling – I’ll tel him!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I always wondered about the key. I wrap the key in tin foil but I like the treble clef 🎼 idea! 😻

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My grandmother used to fashion a key, with the little key inside. I came up with the treble clef for musicians.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am so happy to learn more about this. My husband laughs at me but now I can tell him that it is not so esoteric 🤗

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Many customs that seem esoteric or even silly actually have deep meanings that have been forgotten, while the customs still exist. When my husband and I got married, he, with his Yeshivish background, used to tease me about my “Chassidishe shtik,” until his Rebbe, Rabbi Gutman ZT”L told him to cease and desist because nowadays we never know what is “shtik” and what has true Kabbalah.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. We have a similar dynamic. This year I have been able to find so much more information. Tomorrow I am going to make my challah (IY”H) with a key with joy. Any comments from my husband and I will show him what you wrote 😉🤣😁

        Liked by 2 people

      4. My husband clarified: Rabbi Gutman got it from Rabbi Dovid Kronglass, who got it from his Rosh Yeshivah, the Alter of Slobodka.
        Have a wonderful Shabbos, dear Carol, and may you Shlissel Challah be a key to happiness for your family.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Amen! I wish I could attach the picture. For the first time, I think I got the process down. I am trying to learn how to make 5 lbs of challah by hand. Definitely not for the time challenged. Good Shabbat 💐

        Liked by 2 people

      6. It’s not! I use a machine to make dough, which takes an hour, and take over from there.
        Good Shabbos!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. You are so talented. 🎶

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, look who is talking! Talented yourself! 😻

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Charlee: “Our Dada says challah is also the key to great French toast.”
    Chaplin: “Not that we would know, since he never gives us any …”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your Dada is probably right, but we wouldn’t know because Mama also doesn’t give us any. Sigh…
      The Cat Gang

      Like

  14. Koolkitchens

    Interesting custom to bake and place a key inside a bread role” to find wisdom.

    Wish we had a National “Schlissel Challah” day in the USA to send a “blessing” to help remind us of the need for wisdom to help us “come down from our ivory towers.”

    Mainly to spend more time searching for the key to wisdom to nourish both our body and soul to understand and “fix what needs to be fixed” in both the good and bad times in every life.

    Finding the “key” will indeed be a “blessing” to help us better understand what is needed to find the real meaning for everyone’s “role” in our lives, God’s Wisdom and Love.

    Thanks for finding the time to share your wise custom.

    Regards and goodwill blogging

    PS One wise way to remind us to “come down from our ivory towers” to “change the world” is to begin each day by “fixing our own bed,” bake a “Schlissel Challah,” and share this custom..

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for a wonderfully wise and lovely comment, dear Rudy!

      Like

      1. koolkosherkitchen.

        You have a great blog.

        PS After commenting on your blog, i wrote a post and linked it to yours ..

        https://rudymartinka.com/2021/04/10/wise-custom-recipe-for-life-king-solomon-blog to share your wisdom recipe.

        Regards and goodwill blogging.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you so much, dear Rudy.
        I enjoy and appreciate your blog as well.
        regards,
        Dolly

        Liked by 1 person

  15. What a beautiful post, Dolly! May God grant all of us love and wisdom, for these are gifts we can share w/ one another. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amen! Thank you so much, dear Anna, for a lovely comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. This with the violin key is fantastic, Dolly! 🙂 For this area I remember a tradition of rinsing your wallet with water so that you don’t have to worry financially all year round. I hope you had a nice celebrations. The last few days I had to catch up on some sleep. Whenever I looked out the window and noticed the wintry circumstances, I immediately became tired again. Have a beautiful week! Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Michael. I have never heard of rinsing wallet with water; it’s very interesting, and I have to look it up.
      I am sorry you are affected by changes of seasons. I hope Spring finally comes and you feel better! Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Its Bavarian Siberia here, Dolly! Dont worry! 😉 As i remember too, rinsing the pocket should be done on the last day of German carnival, aka “Fasching”. Here i just found something about in the Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geldbeutelw%C3%A4sche. Best wishes, Michael

        Liked by 2 people

      2. “Bavarian Siberia” LOL!
        Thank you for proving the link, Michael.
        All the best to you!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s really like Siberia here. Only there is not such a humid climate. :-)) Thank you, Dolly! You as well!

        Liked by 2 people

  17. Hi there! I just discovered your blog and I find it very fun and amazing! All the recipes and pictures look soooo 😋😋!! I was just 13 and I have learnt so much from you! Thank you dear for these lovely posts. I took post food recipes that I try out on my blog but none like yours… I wanted to tell that you have great talent😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, dear Aarushi! I am very pleased that you like my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Most welcome! I am always in to support you! Do check out my blog and if you like it, follow for more updates🤗

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am following your blog, darling, and looking forward to new recipes. You are simply brilliant both cooking and writing like this at your age!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you so much for your lovely reply. I am really glad you like it and thank you for your appreciation 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      4. My pleasure, darling. Keep on blogging!

        Liked by 1 person

  18. kegarland says:

    Traditions are very interesting to me. Thanks for explaining this one Dr. Dolly ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your interest, dear Dr Kathy! 😻

      Liked by 1 person

  19. twdunbar2015 says:

    Loved this post!!! I live 15 minutes from Meron and was from Los Angeles ( MoshavBand in the background went to my shul), so it combined the best of both worlds. The Shlissel Challah is incredibly popular here…. everyone I knew was baking, me included. Most are gorgeous works of dough art in the shape of a key. Lovely tradition!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So good to hear from you – thank you so much, dear friend! You are so lucky to live close to Meron; I envy you!
      Be well and stay safe,
      Dolly

      Like

  20. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    A ROYAL POST!

    Liked by 1 person

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

      Liked by 1 person

      1. IT’S TIME I DID!

        Liked by 1 person

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