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JCF Blog

No Disrespect to the Challah

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 2/19/2015

by Rise Roth, Vice President Philanthropy

When I was a girl I attended North Shore Hebrew Academy, an orthodox day school in Great Neck, NY.  While my family was practicing conservative, I loved my learning at North Shore and the insights I learned about the connection between my Judaism, the Torah, and the everyday life of all Jews.

I remember a very special midrash:

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the Mussar (Ethics) movement, once found himself stranded in Kovno for Shabbat. The whole town wished to invite the distinguished guest over for a Shabbat meal, but he agreed to join the table of the local baker, who had no young children and therefore no extra mouths to feed. The baker was an observant Jew, but not particularly learned or intelligent for that matter.

Upon entering the house after Friday night prayers, the proud baker noticed his wife had yet to cover the challahs on the table. Wishing to impress the revered rabbi with his halachic knowledge, he yelled out to his wife, “Woman, why are the challot not covered? How many times must I tell you!” The wife, who quickly recognized their famous guest, rushed to cover the challot as she fought back tears of embarrassment and shame.

Before the baker proceeded on to Kiddush, Rav Yisroel turned to him and said, “Wait a moment, what is the reason why we are required to cover the challot on Friday night?”

“Of course, my dear Rabbi,” the baker responded confidently. “Everyone knows that when you have many types of food in front of you, the bread takes precedence over all in terms of making a blessing. However, on Friday night, because we are required to make the blessing on the wine for Kiddush first, we cover up the challah so as to not embarrass her for passing her over!”

To which the rabbi responded, “Do your ears not hear what your mouth has said? A piece of dough has no feelings and cannot become embarrassed! The purpose of that law and truly all the laws of the Torah is to teach us the incredible sensitivity towards the feelings of others that is required of us.”

I remember thinking that while I was fortunate to be learning the Torah in depth,  the most important message we can learn from all Jewish teachings is that we treat all living beings with respect and sensitivity, above all else.

This midrash reminds me of how easy it is to get caught up in our day to day lives with all the challenges and stresses. We are, after all, human, and not always in control or aware of our emotions, or how we are perceived by others. But regardless, we should be mindful and aware of how we engage with one another.

For those of us whose work is tikkun olam (the repair of the world), whether in a lay person or professional role, we have an obligation to live by our Jewish values and treat each other with this level of sensitivity and respect. If we really think about this, it is impossible to both repair the world and tear each other down at the same time.

Every night I end my day with the ritual of asking myself two questions: What are three things for which I am grateful, and how did I repair the world today? On most days the answer to the second question is about how I uplifted someone, even in some small way. I go about my day knowing I have to answer that question every night.

Our relationships with and between our partner institutions and our donors are paramount to the ongoing success of the Jewish Community Foundation’s work on behalf of the Greater Hartford Jewish Community. The incredible collaboration of programming and resources through the Aim Chai campaign has been a shining example of a community living the laws of the Torah, of treating each other with sensitivity and respect. It’s not always the easiest path and often our faith is tested. When we remain true to ourselves and our Jewish values, we remain on the true path towards tikkun olam.

I am honored to work on behalf of such an incredible community. 

I’d love to know what you think.

Rise Roth is the Vice President of Philanthropy.

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Ellott Tertes
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Your message is very clear. If we all respect each other and work together to achieve common goals we can accomplish miracles. We are on that path like never before. There may be some rocks or even boulders on the path but with commitment to overcome any obstacles, together we can move them aside.
Ruthan Wein
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Starting my day by reading this was the best......it's a wonderful midrash, and a wonderful lesson! Kudos to Rise for sharing this.............I too ask myself the same question every night......was I able to make someone's day better today? It's a mitzvah to be able to answer "yes"!
randi piaker
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thank you so much for sharing! This was absolutely beautiful and a reminder to repair the world every day one person and one interaction at a time! So proud of being a part of this work!
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