'Challahs in the Ark'
This traditional tale, retold by Daniel Barash, provided some of the inspiration for Challah-it-Forward.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Mendel. Mendel loved to bake, and every Friday morning, he would bake four challahs, two for himself, and two for his brother Chaim. He combined flour and water, he added the yeast, he kneaded the bread, he shaped the braids and he baked the loaves.
One winter, Mendel’s brother was invited to teach in a town far away. They bid farewell. The first Friday after he left, Mendel baked challah as usual. He combined the flour and water, he added the yeast, he kneaded the bread, he shaped the braids and he baked the loaves. And then he realized that he had made four challahs instead of two! What would he do with the two extra loaves?
He thought and he thought, until he finally realized, “I will give two away! But to whom?”
“I’ll go to the town’s wisest elder, she’ll surely know!”
When he arrived at the elder’s house, he said, “Rivke, I have made four challahs instead of two. What should I do with the extras?
Malka thought and thought, and finally said, “I think you should leave them in the holiest place you can think of, and they will make their way to someone who needs them.”
“The holiest place?” thought Mendel. “Where would that be? Somewhere in the synagogue! Maybe the shelves with prayerbooks? No, the challahs might be crushed. The rack with prayer shawls? No, the challahs might become hidden.”
Finally, he thought “The Ark, home to the holiest of scrolls, the Torah!”
So at two o’clock Mendel walked into the synagogue, opened the ark, and carefully placed the challahs within.
At three o’clock,Yankel, a synagogue congregant who volunteered each week to straighten the shul before Shabbat services, came into the temple. “Oh,” he thought as he tidied up the books and prayer shawls,”My wife Rachel works so hard preparing for the Sabbath, yet the children are growing so fast, we have barely enough food. If only we had a little more for their hungry bellies…”
Finally he opened up the Ark to straighten the Torahs, when suddenly he saw two loaves of challah. “How can this be?” he thought. “A Sabbath miracle!” And he quickly rushed home to help prepare for the festive meal.
That night, as Mendel was sitting at his table, he was comforted at the thought that his two extra challahs were being eaten by someone in need. And as Yankel was sitting at his table, he was grateful that his family was able to have a nourishing Shabbat meal.
All week, the good feeling of helping someone else stayed with Mendel, so when the time came to make challahs again, he made four instead of two! And at two o’clock, he walked into the synagogue, opened the ark, and carefully placed the challahs.
And all week, Yankel had been grateful at receiving the unexpected loaves of challah. On Friday, he wondered whether there might be another Sabbath miracle waiting for him. So at three o'clock, as he finished his chores at the synagogue, he opened the Ark, and to his amazement, there were two more loaves!
And so it was, week after week, and year after year. Mendel giving, and Mordechai receiving, through the seasons. Each Shabbat, Rivke the elder, looking at both Mendel and Yankel in synagogue, would see peace and contentment in their eyes.
But one Friday a slight change occurred. Mendel was a little late in preparing the challahs, and thus arrived through the front door of the synagogue later than usual.
And Yankel, knowing that he needed more time to prepare for his eldest son’s Bar Mitzvah Sabbath meal, arrived at the back door of the synagogue earlier than usual.
When they both entered the sanctuary at the same time, and began walking towards the Ark, they suddenly stopped, and realized what had happened. A smile crept across both of their faces, and they started laughing.
“Good Shabbos, my friend,” said Mendel to Yankel.
“Good Shabbos, my friend,” said Yankel to Mendel.
And then Yankel asked, “Mendel, would you like to join my family for the Sabbath meal tonight?”
And Mendel said, “I would love to join you…and I will bring two loaves of Challah!”
And thus began the first of many shared meals. Week after week, year after year, the men and their families broke Sabbath bread…together!
Shadow puppet images designed by Devon Kelley-Yurdin.