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The Sweet Spot in the Sourdough Adventure

a gorgeous sourdough challah that I did not make. Not yet.

Something was bothering me all Shabbos, as I thought of my sourdough post.

As I watched and worried over my fledgling sourdough starter, I fretted (who even uses that word?!) that I missed something important in the chronicling of my sourdough journey.

It came to me on Shabbos morning, when of course, I could do nothing about it but wait until today to share it with you – my dear reader.

So here’s what was getting to me. Quite simple, in fact. My blog post was all about the mechanics of this sourdough thing, but it was completely missing out on any spiritual reflection of the matter.

Was something wrong with me? Why was I missing insight into this thing?

This journaling journey never set out to be a manual for the nuts & bolts (or crumbs & gook) of challah baking, although it’s in there as well. It’s always been about the deeper realizations and insights that occur as the challah making is happening.

And then the wise words of our Sages come back to me . . . “If there is no flour, there is no Torah.”

When the most basic element of our survival—the flour—is not present, there is no possibility for the Torah—the water, the spirit—to make its appearance.

In the past I’ve spoken a lot about this... it’s even in my book RISING! The Book of Challah (insert shameless plug here)

When we are struggling with the very basics of life, we are unable to rise higher and delve deeper into the matter – it is all about the immediate, tangible reality in front of us.

It brings to mind the very first time I used the mikvah, as a bride. I was so excited about this incredible mitzvah. It all sounded so beautiful and spiritual, and I couldn’t wait to be in the water and experience the magic myself.

Later on, drying off, I felt a tremendous letdown and disappointment in the experience. It was all nice and good, the water was warm and clean, the attendant was sweet and sincere, but there was no deep moment of connection and release of self. When I was immersing in the holy waters of the mikvah, all I could think about was if I had done everything right.

Did I remember to do this? Did I do that the right way? When do I make the blessing? . . . Uh oh – do I even remember the blessing?!?!

I was so absorbed with the mechanics of the mitzvah, that I totally missed out on the mystery of it.

Now, a few decades of using the mikvah later, I can attest to the incredible spiritual potential of the moment of immersion, and the deep connection that occurs in the space beneath the waters.

But I make sure to tell each bride, or first time mikvah user that I am teaching, or accompanying to the mikvah – that it is very likely they will not feel anything spiritual or lovely the first time they immerse. Maybe not even the second, or the third.

But one day, almost magically, when the details of the mitzvah come naturally, and the preparation for the immersion becomes part of our natural pattern—almost a muscle memory of sorts . . . we will feel it.

The beauty of the mitzvah, the deep connection and soaring of our spirit will happen. We just need to take care of the mechanics of it first to arrive at this place.

And so it is with each mitzvah we do.

I’ve often been asked how it is that I have so many thoughts while making my challah!

Women have told me that if they thought about all this stuff while making their dough, there would be no edible challah to serve at the table. They will have forgotten some important ingredient – like the flour!! and end up serving the frozen pitas in their freezer for shabbos dinner! I have had women lament to me, that when they make their challah, all they are thinking about is if they are getting it right. Meditating on the deeper significance?? Not a chance!!

But that is only because they have not baked enough challah yet.

And apparently, I have not baked enough (any!) sourdough challah yet. Actually I haven’t even finished my starter. I’m still in the very early stages of this adventure. I woke up in middle of the night and worried that I forgot the last feeding. I glance at the starter worriedly, and repeatedly, and wonder if it is supposed to smell that strong?? (my kids have taken to holding their noses dramatically when they go into the kitchen . . .it really is quite pungent right now!) I have been harassing my poor cousin repeatedly with inane questions (accompanied by equally inane photos of my starter!)

I’m just not ready yet.

I haven’t yet reached the ‘sweet spot’ of the sourdough adventure. That sweet spot, where the making of it seems to occur on its own, and my mind and soul are free to soar into all kinds of interesting places!

“If there is no flour, there is no Torah.” Our Sages continue the statement ” . . .if there is no Torah, there is no flour.”

It is a symbiotic relationship, and when the flour feeds the water and the water feeds the flour, there is a rising in all aspects of our lives. Our minds, our hearts and our spirits will soar.

Here’s to reaching that ‘sweet spot’ in all the mitzvot we do . . . and I promise, as soon as I arrive there in this sourdough journey – I will happily share it with you!

Meanwhile, I have to go stare at my starter, and wonder if I’m doing it right.

Shavua Tov! May the coming week be glorious.

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