Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Forty Challah Bakers

There are two sides to the segulos debate. There are the firm believers in the effectiveness of segulos, those who believe in their mystical, magical power. And there are those who deny their validity, and will not participate in any segulah events.

I am somewhere in the middle. The sources of many of our commonly practiced segulos are found in seforim and go back hundreds of years. I have no problem with those. But there seems to be new segulos every day, with no known source, and I'm skeptical.

So when a friend called me late Thursday and asked me to join a group of 40 challah bakers, I agreed because she needed that favor from me. But I was worried. I hoped I wasn't ruining anything by not fully believing in what I was going to do.

I'd heard about the 40 challah bakers segulah. Each of the 40 women would make the bracha on the challah in their own homes, usually for the refuah shleima, or some sort of yeshua, for a specific person.

This was a new twist to that segulah. This time, all 40 women would get together in one person's home, bringing their own dough, and taking challah together.

I prepared my dough in the morning, and drove to the address I was given. I parked nearby, and sat in the car for several moments, watching women stream towards the house, lugging huge towel covered bowls of dough. I wasn't quite sure that there was any merit to what I was about to do, but the sight moved me.

We began by lighting candles. The woman who organized this gathering spoke for a few minutes. She spoke about her passion for the mitzvah of challah baking, and how she took that passion to another level. She spoke a little bit about the woman in whose merit we were doing this. She is a young mother battling cancer. She recently had to be put on a respirator, and her prognosis seemed bleak.

We took turns taking challah and reciting the bracha aloud, with everyone answering amen. The first woman broke down halfway through her bracha. Women sobbed openly. Something stirred inside me.

Then we said Tehillim. The entire Tehillim was divided between the 40 women, so that the entire sefer was completed.

I looked around me. I don't know if the number 40 has any meaning, but there is power in numbers - whatever the number is. All these women left their homes on a busy Friday morning - on the hottest day of the year - to daven for a woman most of them do not even know...to beg Hashem to spare her...to plead with Hashem on behalf of the children who still desperately need their mother. The emotion was palpable. I don't know what we were accomplishing. But it was powerful.

I heard the next day that the woman we davened for was taken off the respirator late Friday afternoon.


I don't know. Maybe.

Am I sold? Did I join the ranks of the firm believers?

No. I'm still a skeptic. I still believe in the power of tefillah over the power of segulos. I am still curious about the sources, and wonder where these segulos were 20 years ago.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. In a heartbeat.


  1. So, so, soooo incredibly moving, I had goosebumps and a lump in my throat reading this.
    Mi k'amcha Yisroel!

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I'm not one for segulos either but this was very moving. I don't even see it as much as a segulah but as a zechus for this woman. The power of Hafrashas Challah AND answering Amen AND the power of Rabbim is tremendous.
    May the zechus help the woman you did it for as well as all the participants in their personal lives.

  3. We do things that don't make perfect sense because they ground us and tie us to our community and our fellow human beings. That's a good thing.

  4. Ha. Nothing to do with the challah. Please recall that u said tehillim afterwards.

    Just sayin....

  5. Thank you, Chav!


    That's how I look at it. It's not about the segulah at all. It's all these women getting together and doing things that are mitzvos, not segulos - in this woman's zchus.


    Is that all it is?


    I actually thought about that while we were saying tehillim. But I can't help feeling that it's much more than that.

  6. It's nice to hear these sort of stories from someone who participated in one of these things. Everyone hears story after story that happened, but rarely do I hear about it from someone personally. When I do, it's often dramatized to make it a tad too unbelievable for me not to be cynical.

    I've wondered about segulos for years now and I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer. I'm pretty sure there are sources for some of them, but I can't recall off the top of my head which they are or where they can be found (convenient, I know, but...). For the longest time I felt like SiR put it, or as Anonymous put it so sarcastically: it has more to do with the tefillos than to do with the segula behind it. I'm still not sure what I think, but I don't think that there's anything wrong with practicing them and believing in their validity.

    My uncle told me that when he was in Israel he spoke to one of the "accepted" (his word, not mine- means a lot to me, but understandably not necessarily to you) mekubalim who said that the 40 days at the Kosel segula is a segula brought down.

    Like you said, MW and SiR, it could very well be that the tefillah is the only thing that works. Perhaps the the idea of segulos was "created" simply to inspire tefilah and to give the davening more credence/chashivus than people gave to "regular" davening. I'll have to ask my local know-it-all and hopefully get some answers.

  7. %Shocked%...

    So what you're basically saying is...no harm in doing this stuff, so why not?
    I'd love to hear those sources if you ever find them.

  8. For sources for segulos, check out the sefer טעמי המנהגים. Towards the end, there are like 50 pages of 'inyonai segulos', and 'inyonia refuos'. Most of them have decent sources.

  9. Pretty much, ya. If there's something inherent about doing the segula, then it shouldn't matter if you believe it or not. But I'd also say it depends what the segula is. I think some sechel is necessary when believing in these things. But don't take my word for anything lol. What I'm saying are my opinions and the little bit that I know. Keep that in mind please :)

    I spoke to my k-i-a today and he quoted from the Maharal and Chofetz Chaim who, from what I understood, didn't speak directly on the topic, but what they said can be applied here. People get disenchanted by segulos not working, hence the cynicism aimed towards them. There are times in the gemarah where it says, "If you do A, B and C, D (e.g. become rich) will happen. The reason that these things don't necessarily come true is because it's possible that the person had done something to cancel that out. Let's say they did something that the punishment would be poorness. By doing the segula they cancelled out their punishment but they aren't going to become rich now.

    He also pointed out that they've been so over-dramatized and "sold" as being quick and easy solutions, that people can't help but be cynical about it. I saw on DovBear's blog an ad, of which he (in this case, understandably) was very cynical about, that was a "sale" price for people to have someone daven 40 days for you at the Kosel.

    They've become popularized I believe simply because our society only wants all of their problems to disappear with nary a thought. "$80 is all it takes to get rid of THIS MASSIVE problem I'm having?! I'm in!!" Where's the effort to working it out? On the contrary, I can imagine THAT being a reason why they "don't work" anymore.

    As for the sources, I'll have to get back to you on that :P Working on one and I'll try and check out the Prof's suggestion and write them up here (or on my blog) eventually.

  10. @ Shocked

    All these things DO have to do with belief. The concept of ayin horas for example, it says in quite a few places, that if someone doesnt believe in them they dont affect him.

    Also, there is another sefer on segulos, called 'segulos yisroel'. Its quite an old sefer, put out in תרסה, so its not written by one of these modern fly by night tachtonim. You can find both of the sefarim i mentioned on hebrewbooks

  11. Shocked...

    Actually, I kinda agree with Professor. I think belief does play some part in this. Which is why I was a bit worried when I agreed to take part in the segulah.


    I know there are sources for some segulos. Some of them go way back. But there seems to be new ones being discovered all the time. I was wondering about those. Are they really old ones with sources that are being rediscovered now? Or are they really new? And in that case, where are they coming from?

  12. @ Professor: I respectfully disagree lol. Let's say ou did something, such as MW did, and you didn't believe that it would happen because you didn't see a source for it. Then, two days later you come across a source, in the gemarah, you still think it wouldn't happen? If there is something inherent to the action, e.g Kibbud Av v'Em leads to long life, taking ma'aser will bring wealth, etc., then it makes no difference if you believe in it or not.

    I think Ayin Hara is different. 1) You can't control what someone else does or thinks, so to be affected by it, I can understand that you would have to give it credence. Here, you're the one doing the action. 2) Ayin hara's are pretty much intrinsically intent, so again, it makes sense that you have to believe it. I'm sure there's a 3), but it's escaping me now.

  13. Wow, that's a really beautiful story! WOW!!

    Now, for my comment...

    Segulos…the big topic. There’s a lot to say about it (maybe too much!) but I’ll try to give you my opinion on this.

    Everything this days works so quickly. Text messages, emails, IM, chatting, the internet…it’s all like you snap your fingers and you have it. You type in a few words and then less than a second later you have millions of google results to look through.

    People are looking for a quick-fix. They have a problem, they want their solution to come their way as quickly as possible.

    But it doesn’t always work that way.

    Life isn’t always easy. People want to be able to pay a certain amount for their yeshuah – with a promise that they’ll get what they want. But it doesn’t happen because sometimes they forget that there’s a plan behind it and a Master Planner who has a reason for why the time is not right or what they want isn’t for their ultimate good.
    So they turn to segulos.

    Like someone so aptly called it, “Push button Judaism” – it’s not a vending machine where you put your quarter(s) or dollar bill(s) in, press the button and then out comes the snack/candy bar you want!

    That’s not to say that there’s nothing behind the segulos that are out there. This is just a general outlook on the whole topic.

    It’s just easier (IMHO) to say Shir Hashirim/Perek Shira every day for 40 days than to work on changing a middah. That takes a lifetime.

    So sometimes Hashem might want us to change ourselves and then our situation will change. (That’s not a guarantee either!)

    On a personal note, I have an older sister who is still not married. As a family, we’ve done many of the segulos – (and the oddest ones too!). Sometimes it was because we all decided that together we wanted to do that specific one and other times someone told us about the ONE segulah that works (it worked for a cousin of ours and my aunt insisted that we HAD to try it!) but Hashem had other plans…and she’s still single.

    So let’s work on our middos, tefillah, connection to Hashem, ahavas yisroel. I’ll leave the segulos for everyone else to try.

    I hope this doesn’t take away from your story. It’s beautiful to see the start of a yeshuah come about from a group of 40 women gathering together to do the mitvah of hafrashas challah, say the brachah, answer amen and say tehillim afterwards. Those are a lot of zechusim all multiplied by 40!

    But when people take one story and decide that it MUST work for them and their whole emunah is based on the segulah, then what happens when it doesn’t work? (Because it doesn’t always work!) Everything crumbles!! And that’s when it can get dangerous.

    (I told you I had too much to say...)

  14. I know know I'm running a risk of being the "Johnny-come lately" commentator who displays a slight tinge of apikorses. I think we got enough to "believe", it's enough of a challenge to maintain the basic degree of emunah, which we all have our issues with. Do we all "really" believe that moshiach is coming tomorrow? Do we "really" believe that all the suffering of today is the last gasps of golus, the chevlei moshiach? The exact same mantra that klal yisrael repeated during the Spanish Inquisition, the gezeiras "tach tat", the pogroms in Poland and Russia, the Holocaust, the intifada, Leiby Kletsky? I'm not questioning, I'm merely pointing out that we all need work on the basics, and no need to pile on more "beliefs"!

    A relative of mine lost her gold diamond earring a week ago in the country. She was devastated. She said the magical "omar reb binyamin, hakol becheskas.... " It's a no-brainer. It works like a charm. Never fails. Except it didn't work. I guess I am to assume the the possuk worked, she must've said it wrong. What did work was when her husband bought a metal detecting device, scoured the whole bungalow colony and it beeped finally. It was buried in the mud after the rains... I must confess, being cloaked by the anonymity of the Internet, that I believe more in that metal detector thingie, that reb binyamin's posuk. Am I the exception? Maybe.

    One thing I must admit. As skeptical as I am with segulos, the "spooky" stuff I take seriously. Meaning the ones that if you do, "bad" things can happen. So you won't catch me bricking up windows, cutting fruit trees (ok, that's halacha), letting my pregnant wife step on fingernails, and stepping over my child who is laying on the floor (which will stunt his growth!). So there. I please guilty to inconsistency!