This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
Three mitzvot were designated by G-d for the Jewish woman: lighting the shabbos (sabbath) candles, taharas u'mishpacha (family purity) and hafrashas challah (separating challah). By lighting candles, the ladies are spreading light in a world cloaked with darkness, and when we are forbidden to our husbands at that special time of the month, we are free to focus on the talking aspect of our relationships. Regarding hafrashas challah one might wonder, "What's so compelling about yanking a fistful of dough from three or four pounds of unbaked bread?"
In order to appreciate why women, sometimes mothers of six to ten kids, will head to the kitchen Friday afternoon to bake fresh challahs for Shabbos, we must go back to the time when Adam and Eve were kicked out of Gan Eden (the garden of paradise).
On Friday morning, G-d had formed Adam out of the dust of the earth (essentially he was a dough mixture before he was animated)." Then, "He [G-d] blew the soul of life into his [Adam's] nostrils" (Genesis 2:7). What does that mean? What is this neshamah (soul)? It is a piece, a spark of G-d. Thus, G-d created Adam bitzelelm elokim (in the image of Himself [G-d]). This state of being - bitzelem elokim - translates to Adam's having the ability to partake in the Creation process. After G-d banished them from Paradise, husband and wife were no longer able to eat ready made bread straight off the bush. Instead, man was forced to work, by the sweat of his brow, to makes ends meet(Genesis 3:19) and woman was forced to cook his meals.
How do we further the Creation process? G-d created the concept of wheat; man makes it manifest. In the same vein, when a husband and wife become one (imitating G-d's Oneness) they bring children into the world. Also, children are referred to as raw material, or in other words, lumps of clay. As they grow into adults, they shape themselves into pieces of art.
The downside to being a tzelem elokim is that the process of growing one's food (or doing anything that furthers the Creation process) clouds one's ability to see the hand of G-d in his day to day life. One might think, for instance, while growing wheat, "I tested the soil, furrowed the ground, sowed the seeds and I harvested the wheat. G-d had nothing to do with it." G-d understands this human fallacy since He created us. Therefore, He commanded us to leave aside the terumot and maasarot (specific measurements of one's fruits and vegetables) of one's produce to the kohanim (priests) and the destitute. Giving away the work that one sweated over helps to strengthen his emuna (faith) in G-d. One will then have no need to question Him: "Who knows if we will have a good crop next season?" "Who knows if we will have enough food to last the winter?"
In the Book of Prophets, we are told to take the above concept a step further, "...From the first of your kneadings you shall give to the priest since this will bring everlasting blessing upon your home" (Ezekiel 44:30). Why is G-d giving us another directive for strengthening our faith? When the Creation process hits the kitchen, it becomes harder for us to recognize Divine Providence in our daily existence. The phrase, "Every man is master of his house" lends credence to the fact that divine providence has difficulties squeezing through the thresholds of our homes. At least, while man was out in the fields, he could understand that G-d sent rain. However, once the store items gets carted home, it becomes more difficult to see G-d's presence. Therefore, along with giving the first of our kneadings, we also bless the finished product, if it's bread, with the following, "Blessed art Thou, G-d, Master of the universe, who brings forth bread from the ground." This blessing acknowledges that G-d controls the process from beginning to end.
One of the reasons hafrashas challah is a mitzvah attributed specifically to women is because she represents the foundation of her home. She has the ability to see G-d's presence more easily than her husband. Although a man must be the master of his home, his wife creates the environment. In the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula's mother says, "A man is the head but the woman is the neck and can turn the head any way she wants." This explains why the woman of the house makes her way to the kitchen every Friday, even when the clock is ticking. She has faith that the challahs will get finished in time for Shabbos.
Hafrashat challah is dependent on the amount of flour used. For the laws, click on the following link.