My beloved husband, Motty, passed away just over four years ago. And I’ve been discovering how all the ingredients that go into baking challah encapsulate different parts of my life.

The basic ingredients include flour, sugar, yeast, salt, water and oil.

Flour is the ingredient used in bulk when preparing challah. Flour represents everything and anything in my life. The people, the material things, the routines etc. Everything.

Stephanie Pollak and her late husband, Motty Winkler

Sugar represents the good times, the treasured sweet moments. The laughter, the milestones, creating everlasting memories with my son. The times with friends. Sitting around the family table and reminiscing on crazy family times.

The pinch of salt represents the part of my life’s journey that’s heartbreak, stress, feeling overwhelmed or lonely. The pain. Those times where you feel like you need a good cry. Something triggers it and you just break down.

Have you ever walked into the Dead Sea only to discover cuts and open wounds you didn’t even know existed? I sure have! You let yourself feel those open wounds.

And the salty moments in your life may come about even during the sugary ones. My son standing so proud at his graduation from Kindergarten last year. Dressed in beautiful Shabbat clothing holding his brand new siddur, feeling accomplished and noble. But I get all emotional when I think about that beautiful moment because Motty wasn’t there next to me shouting his name and saying how proud he was of our son. Or when I’m out with couples and it’s an odd number at the table. Those nights when I have no other obligations and I put Dovid to bed and it’s just me and the four walls with no one to talk to, no one at home to go over the highs and lows of my day. No one to laugh with me while watching Golden Girls reruns.

Water. Oh, the water! The tears! I don’t want put you in a down mood. In my life not all tears came from sad and painful moments. They’ve come from some of the best conversations, something funny on social media, Dovid being his whackodoodle self and I’m loving every second of being in that moment. But more often than not the water comes from waves of grieving that can hit me unexpectedly. The water often goes hand in hand with the pain from the salt. Feeling at a low.

Stephanie and her son Dovid

In order to bake challah you need a key active ingredient. You need yeast. For me, the yeast represents the moments where I’m motivated to actively work on myself. To listen to a Torah class or read a book that inspires me, to take time for self-improvement and self-care. Being pro-active is the only way our lives can get better, the only way to get out of a rut. We must take action.

I use tons of yeast in my challah recipe of life. I may feel at a low, but I don’t let myself stay there for long. Each day, I work my muscles hard, making my way through the ups and downs by kneading.

The last and final ingredient is the oil. Back in the time of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, when a king was anointed oil would be poured down his head. The oil in my life is God. I have tremendous belief that at the young age of 25 years old with a 2-year-old son I had to experience the loss of my husband, and all the trials and tests that led up to it and after. When I add the oil, I am showing that I have full trust in God that I will make it out on top with His help and guidance. When I rub the oil into the batch of dough, I am increasing my level of belief and trust in God.

One of the most crucial steps when preparing challah is time. Patiently letting the dough rise. Over the last four plus years I’ve been rising. I’ve been working on myself. Taking salty moments in my life and learning from them. Growing from them. Holding on to the sugary moments for as long as I can. Time. We need to take the time to rise. To grow. To become who we are supposed to become.

The final and most important step in preparing challah is prayer. When we rip off an egg-size piece of dough to perform the mitzvah of hafrashas challah, separating the challah, we recite a special blessing. That is an opportune time to pray, for anyone and anything. When I’ve turned to God, cried to God, gave praise and prayed to God, I rose. Sometimes instantly and sometimes I needed time.

May we all recognize how important each ingredient is in our life. And may the delightful aromas of our challah baking fill our souls, our homes, our marriages, our relationships with our children, with our communities and most importantly enhance our relationship with God.