Forgiveness is a tricky concept. It is easily applied to a situation when the transgression is minor. A forgotten birthday, a word misspoken in haste, a misunderstanding of perceptions; forgiveness is willingly doled out in each of these instances.
But what about the attempted genocide of an entire people? Or searching one’s own soul in an effort to release a lifetime of guilt? Who is responsible to bestow forgiveness to the offenders when these are the circumstances? Man and/or God?
These are the questions that trouble the minds of Reuben and Hannah Wise and Dr. John Welles after they dine together one January evening in 1955. All three are divided in their opinions concerning the particular events that generated their questions. While they remain polite toward each other, a wedge has been driven into their friendship, especially between Hannah and John.
I chose to have Reuben serve challah bread during the Shabbat meal to which he and Hannah invited John for two reasons. For one, challah is traditionally served during the observation of Shabbat. More importantly, though, the presence of bread during this significant meal drew attention to the many references of bread in the Bible as well as underscored the differences between the Wises and Dr. Welles.
The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the challah Reuben made in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I hope you will enjoy this lightly sweet, rich, and delicious bread with your meals.
Reuben Wise’s Challah Bread
1 ½ cups warm water
2 tablespoon yeast
½ cup olive oil
½ cup sugar (or honey) (I used raw sugar)
3 eggs (2 for the recipe and 1 for the wash)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups flour (slightly packed)
In a Kitchen Aid mixer add 1 ½ cups lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons yeast. Mix gently and allow the yeast to foam.
Add ½ cup sugar (or honey), ½ cup olive oil, 2 eggs, and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well, approximately one minute or so. Add the six cups of flour one at a time and mix thoroughly with a bread hook. You may need to add ½ cup of flour if the dough is very sticky.
Remove from the mixing bowl and divide the dough into two halves. Divide each half into four pieces and roll each piece to about 12 – 14 inches in length. Braid the pieces of dough. (You can find instructions for braiding challah on the internet. I chose a four-strand braid for my bread.)
Brush each braided loaf with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little water to thin it). Place the braided loaves on a non-stick cookie sheet with parchment paper or a cooking mat on it and sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or slivered almonds. Let the loaves rise until about 1/3 larger in size.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves for 23 – 25 minutes. Loaves should be golden and firm when finished.
This recipe can also be mixed and kneaded by hand.
The traditional blessing over the bread as spoken by Reuben Wise:
HAMOTZI – Blessing Over the Bread
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, Ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,
who brings forth bread from the earth.