Torah Musings: You Never Know What (Challah) Will Stick


You Never Know What (Challah) Will Stick

Sarah Pachter

Years ago, my mother-in-law mailed me a “how to” page from a magazine. The article was instructing how to make a braided challah in the shape of a crown and pomegranate for Rosh Hashanah. She knows I appreciate beautiful culinary presentation and thought I would be interested.

Now, as much as I do appreciate culinary presentation, interest does not always translate into action. So, when I saw the magazine clip I thought, Oh, that’s beautiful! I would love to do that sometime! Then I simply stuck it in my recipe book. Like many other new recipe ideas, I forgot all about it.

Until about two years later.

I was making challah with my girls for the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and my seven-year-old daughter, Nava, was making elaborate shapes with her braids. Emmy, two years younger, asked me to help her make a special design.

Wracking my brain (and my cookbook), the lightbulb went off. “Hey Emmy, why don’t we make this fancy design Savta sent us? She’ll be so happy we finally used it!”

Together, we were actually able to follow the directions to make the beautiful crown shape. We didn’t attempt the pomegranate because it looked a little too advanced for me. Emmy was pleased with her crown and was eager to share a picture with my mother-in-law. (Points for everyone!)

As I closed up the cookbook in order to put it away, a thought came to me: My mother-in-law sent this years ago. It remained dormant in my cookbook until many moons later. Isn’t this a great analogy for parenting?

Sometimes, we invest in our children, teaching them lessons and practicing by example, and it feels like it’s falling on deaf ears. Perhaps on that specific day it is falling on deaf ears. But you never know when an influential seed will resurface, often far later than we would like, but still precisely at the perfect time.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe compares parenting to planting and building.[1] The building process is immediate. When the builder lays a brick, the results are visible right away. However, that brick will never create a new brick of its own.

Planting entails digging, toiling, watering, and sweating—yet for a long time, it seems like nothing is taking place as a result. Eventually, though, a small seedling may become visible, and later a beautiful tree surfaces which will bear fruit of its own, each containing its own seeds. The goal isn’t just to create a tree; it’s to cultivate a plant with the potential to create more plants…and on and on into the future.

How your child behaves at this very moment is important. However, what is perhaps even more essential is how he or she carries on into the future. The end goal is to raise children who will bring their own light into the world. Perhaps this is why on Tu B’shvat, the holiday for the trees, we focus on saying brachot on various fruits. If the holiday is honoring the trees, why don’t we mention the tree itself, rather than the fruit? The ikkar is the fruit that is produced, but it takes years for it to become a reality. Sometimes it feels like an eternity before that seed finally yields a fruit-bearing tree. Sometimes it seems like that seed is doing nothing in there, but eventually it surfaces.

A frustrated friend once said to me about her difficult child, “I’m doing everything right, and doing what the books and classes say.” As parents, we may feel we dejected when our chinuch seems to not make any changes. Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen writes in To Kindle A Soul that the planting process is a slow one. In fact, the seed has to rot first before it sprouts.[2]

For parents who have children who create challenges in the home, or children who may be off the derech, we must realize that our words, actions, and prayers are not for naught. As Rebbetzin Henny Machlis said, never give up. It’s like that recipe that is tucked away in the back of a cookbook but will one day be used. The spark of holiness is simply in the recesses of your child’s mind and heart, and eventually it will come forth. My mother-in-law wisely reminds me that when she was raising children, she would say, “It’s not working…yet.”

We can learn the lesson of patience and persistence from the bamboo tree. A person plants a bamboo seed and waters and fertilizers it for an entire year, and nothing happens. Another year passes, and they continue to water and fertilize, and still nothing. A third, fourth, and fifth year come and go, and nothing is sprouted. Then, six weeks into the fifth year, the bamboo tree sprouts and shoots up to 96 feet!

If the planter were to have stopped watering it, it would have died. However, since he was persistent, he is able to see the end results—a huge tree! How long did it take for the bamboo to grow? One might respond, six weeks. But that’s not accurate. It took five years of nurturing. During that time, deep roots are forming below the surface to support the large tree.

Nothing is instant in the planting process. Both planting and parenting require years of nurturing and a lot of hidden work.

We have to remember that what a child looks like today is not what he or she will look like years from now. And the same may be true of our own inner child. Change, and spiritual growth, is difficult and slow, both in ourselves and our children. Keep sending magazine clippings and books—whether they be real paper ones or in the form of links—and continue planting and digging deep. In the long run, good will come from it.

When my oldest son was younger, I would make a major effort to inculcate gratitude in him. Everywhere we went, I would ask, “What do we say?” He would respond, “Thank you,” dutifully. At one point, I wondered if he would ever begin to say it on his own without prompting. I did not have older kids or the experience of another child to reassure me.

Then, without even really realizing, it became second nature to him. So much so that when we went to the dentist for a cleaning, I saw my son go over to every person in the office to thank them. And the director of his sleepaway camp called me specifically to tell me how grateful my son was and how he often expressed gratitude for organizing such a great camp. Only then did I realize that the planting had taken root years ago.

What are the keys that ensure a plant will eventually resurface and grow? When speaking to a well-respected rav and rebbetzin, I asked them how they managed to raise children who were able to withstand temptations of our society, such as drugs and alcohol, despite having had direct access.

Their answer was one word: love. They continued, “A child may experiment because curiosity might get the better of them, or they may even go off the derech for a time, but if you give them love, they will come back to what is right eventually. Kids who feel deep-rooted love usually are only experimenting.”

So, for those parents with children who are struggling, try to see the big picture and remember that just because they are not listening today does not mean they will always be like this, even if it takes years to come around.

When we continue to act according to our values, we are planting seeds that will one day sprout.

On Rosh Hashanah, we crown Hashem as our king. This symbolizes keeping Hashem constantly on our mind. We eat pomegranates, with their many seeds, to signify a multitude of mitzvot that we hope to perform this upcoming year.

If we keep sharing ideas for our children’s “crown,” or mind, eventually it will trickle down to their heart and translate into action. Essentially, this combination of the crown and pomegranate represents moving ideas from our thoughts to action. Never give up on your children, keep nurturing them with love, and maybe they will pull that metaphorical recipe card out—just in time.

[1] Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, Planting and Building, Raising a Jewish Child

[2] Lawrence Kelemen, To Kindle A Soul, pg. 29