CLERGY CORNER: Challah bread

Posted on 03 November 2016 by LeslieM

Just a few decades ago, there lived a great symphony conductor, an Italian maestro named Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), who led concerts all over the world. He was one of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and 20th Century, renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory. Toscanini had a biographer who would interview him periodically over the years as a part of a major book he was writing on his life.

The following is a story I heard about Toscanini: One evening, the biographer called Toscanini and told him that he would be in town the next night and asked if could come to the house to interview him. Toscanini answered that he could not because he would be doing something special that would require absolute concentration; he could not be interrupted.

Maestro,” the biographer said, “if I may ask, what are you doing that is so special?”

Toscanini replied, “There is a concert being played overseas. I used to be the conductor of that symphony orchestra but I could not be there this year. So I’m going to listen to it on a shortwave radio and hear how the other conductor leads the orchestra. I don’t want any interruptions whatsoever.”

Maestro, it would be my greatest pleasure to watch how you listen to a concert played by an orchestra that you used to lead and I promise I won’t say anything. I will sit on the other side of the room, quietly,” said the biographer

You promise to be perfectly quiet?” Toscanini asked, to which the biographer replied that he would.

Toscanini answered, “Then you can come.”

The next night, the biographer came and sat quietly while Toscanini listened to the concert, which lasted almost an hour.

Finally, when it ended, the biographer remarked, “Wow, wasn’t that magnificent?”

Toscanini said, “Not really.”

His biographer asked, “Why not?”

Toscanini explained, “There were supposed to be 120 musicians, including 15 violinists but only 14 of them played.”

The biographer thought he was joking. How could he know from 6000 miles away, over shortwave radio, that one of the violinists was missing? The biographer had his doubts but didn’t want to say anything and went home.

The next morning, though, he had to find out for himself, so he called the concert hall overseas, asked for the music director and inquired as to how many musicians were supposed to have been playing the night before versus how many had actually shown up. The concert hall director told him that there were supposed to have been 120 musicians, including 15 violinists, but only 14 had shown up!

The biographer was amazed. He returned to Toscanini and said, “Sir, I owe you an apology. I thought you were just making it up the other night. But please, tell me, how could you know that one violinist was missing?”

There is a great difference between you and me,” Toscanini answered.” You’re a part of the audience and to the audience everything sounds wonderful. But I’m the conductor, and the conductor knows every note of music that has to be played. When I realized that certain notes were not being played, I knew without a doubt that one of the violists was missing. The music is perfect because of all the pieces coming together in unison.”

Are you that violinist which constantly doesn’t show up?

There are always unity events, community events, school events, city events and the list goes on … but how many of us think “if we don’t go, what does it matter?”

Think for a moment as Toscanini – if you were trying to unite your children, if you were trying to make peace amongst your children than would it matter if one did not show up? Of course it would; it would ruin the whole song!

It reminds me of the tradition of baking challah bread, which is to be eaten on Sabbath. Part of the commandment of “taking challah” (a portion of consecrated dough) it is derived from the following passages: “And it will be when you eat of the bread of the land, you should bring an offering to G-d. The first of your kneading bowl you shall donate to G-d as an offering…” (Numbers 15:19, 20)

In the details pertaining to taking off a portion of dough, the law stipulates that the flour and water have to be properly kneaded so that it is a single dough. The portion cannot be separated while the batter is still loose, leaving the necessary flour still attached to the edges of the bowl.

The flour most commonly used for bread is derived from wheat, a grain that symbolizes independence. Each granule has its own compartment separated from the rest. Independence and self-reliance are not necessarily negative traits unless they become a source of arrogance, an unhealthy ego. But we do not eat the wheat as is. It is refined and processed until it becomes flour. The external, superficial trappings of ego are crushed allowing the beneficial parts to remain.

The other main ingredient in dough is water. Water is a unifier, it binds things together, and its purpose is to bring life and nourishment to everything. Our daily bread is symbolic of the need to reach out and help people discover their own individual shining souls, the need to connect with others in order to bring them within our community.

Just as the dough is not ready for the portion of “challah dough” to be given as an offering until the flour and water are kneaded together well, a person cannot rest comfortably in their own environment and imagine that things are fine while there are others that are left outside and not included in the community.

Join our Mega Challah Bake on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at The Chabad Jewish Center, 2025 E. Sample Rd. in the Venetian Isle Shopping Center. For more info and to R.S.V.P., please visit

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