Recipe for Honey Cake follows at the end of the post.
This past erev Shabbat I made challah and honey cake because it was also erev Yom Kippur. On Friday after sundown, we entered into 26-hours of fasting and atonement on the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar.
“For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G‑d” (Leviticus 16:30).
As I stood in my kitchen, basking in the sunlight, the warmth of my family and boyfriend’s love, I wondered if it was strange that I was looking forward to participating in Yom Kippur services. Yom Kippur is the most solemn of the holidays and, yet, there is something essential and beautiful to me about a day in which we are asked to look into ourselves, honor and reveal the most challenging and poor thoughts/behaviors we have committed against G-d, repent those thoughts/behaviors to G-d, and receive forgiveness.
I was also looking forward to services because this past Thursday I made both a difficult and necessary decision not to visit my family in Georgia so as to take care of myself. Yom Kippur promised to be the final part of taking care of myself; giving myself space for prayer, self-reflection, connection to G-d and community through services.
I had been reading about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the days of Atonement. Indeed, during the Days of Awe I’d spent much time reflecting on how my poorer thoughts/behaviors had negatively effected other people during the past year and repenting and reflecting on change for the New Year.
However, I have struggled with the piece of the puzzle that involves my self and G-d. Specifically, I struggled to forgive myself for the sins I have committed before and against G-d over the past year. More specifically, I could not imagine forgiving the sins I committed against my Self and so the sins I committed against G-d. As my parents have always said, I’m harder on myself than anyone else is. Even G-d, I think.
In my reading about the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur I came upon a reading that addressed the rituals associated with the Day before Yom Kippur. And while I couldn’t magically create a mikvah for my boyfriend and I to bathe in, I could bake honey cake.
Honey cake (lekach) is a sweet cake that is eaten on Rosh Hashanah (I missed that boat this year), erev Yom Kippur and often on break the fast after Yom Kippur. On erev Yom Kippur specifically, it is custom to ask and receive lekach from someone (often a mentor or parent). According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994):
asking for lekach on the eve of Yom Kippur instills in us the recognition that all the sustenance we receive throughout the year, including that which we supposedly “earn” by our own powers and endeavors, is in truth a gift from Above, granted in response to our daily requests from He who nourishes the entire world with in His goodness, with grace, with benevolence and with compassion
Over the past year, I have struggled with unemployment: with “asking” for help, with “taking” government handouts and gifts from my family, with working jobs deemed as “less-than my intellectual capacity” by society: becoming the baker and the dog walker, with desiring my next position not to be the “top” or “best” or “most-important” just for money’s sake and being told that is not a responsible thought-process. I should want to “be more” than I am; to strive to be the best and in the next position of power.
I have struggled this year with not being able to give charitably at the level I used to be able to. Decreasing my income by 50% has its ramifications [especially when there’s still loan debt to pay off :)] Not being as financially-flush in my generosity as I used to be able to has taken its toll on me emotionally and spiritually. I have felt less-than.
However, in reading and studying for Yom Kippur I found not only emotional solace in the practice of giving and receiving lekach, but also a deep, hopeful logic.
By giving and receiving lekach, we are asked to remember that all gifts are from G-d. Whether we are the giver or the receiver, what we have been given to give-away, or received from the hands of another person, has been provided to us by G-d. During the Days of Awe, G-d has decreed whether we will need to ask for help, give help, or both, during the upcoming year. The shame I have felt from asking and receiving this year is a shame rooted in having to ask another person for help. Receiving “handouts” is not deemed as a cause for celebration nor a worthy occupation in our society. It is seen as a failure to provide for oneself; an inability to “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps.”
But what if the bootstraps were decreed to break? What if the lesson from G-d for the asker was in the asking? What if the people giving were actually only vessels from G-d performing what was already decreed? Is there shame in asking for from G-d? Is there shame in receiving from G-d? Is there pride or shame in giving only that which G-d has already decided should be given?
With these questions and thoughts in mind, I settled into making challah first. In the midst of my preparations, I received many gifts: a phone call from my father, one from my brother, and a bouquet of beautiful sunflowers from my mother. These gifts reminded me of G-d’s graciousness and my blessings. While I kneaded the challah dough, I cried joyful tears of love and thankfulness for my family, for each of our capacities to change, and for our G-d’s grace in loving us through our love for one another. The challah turned out beautifully: wide and squishy, rich and yeasty. It was full of love and promise and sustenance. Once cooled, I wrapped it up to share at Yom Kippur break fast with our shul’s fellow congregants.
The act of pure love I experienced in making challah infused itself into making honey cake. That evening, when I introduced the concept of lekach to him, he asked for some and I was able to give it to him. I doing so, I smiled. And then I laughed and smiled in asking him also for a bite of G-d’s pure love.
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups pastry flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup + 1 Tbsp canola oil
- 3/4 cup local honey
- 1 cup strong brewed half-caf coffee (decaf or regular is also fine)
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Smile. Think of someone(s) you love. Offer up thanks to G-d for that person(s). Smile. Hold onto that joy throughout the process of making love-ful honey cake.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with a wire whisk.
- Slowly and gently whisk sugar into the eggs. Then do the same with the oil and then honey.
- Keep smiling and thinking happy, love-ful thoughts.
- To the sugar/egg mixture, add 1/4 cup coffee. Stir with a spoon or spatula. Then add 1/2 cup or so of dry ingredients. Take care to mix only until the dry ingredients are combined.
- Continue to alternate adding coffee and flour until all of the dry ingredients are just combined. Your batter will be runny. Don’t worry; it’s supposed to look that way
- Mixture can be poured into 6 mini-loaf pans, one 9 x12 cake pan, or two large loaf pans. Fill the pans halfway or a little more. Note; mini-loaf pans are great options for giving away loaves to loved ones, neighbors, friends, and fellow congregants.
- The baking time will vary depending on the depth of your pan. For 6 mini-loaf pans, anticipate around 20-25mins of baking time. A cake pan may take up to 40 minutes, depending on the depth of your pan.
- Test for doneness by piercing with a toothpick; If the toothpick comes away clean, the cake is done.
- Let cool and share- joyfully 🙂
Recipe adapted from Mom’s Honey Cake