E very family has a challenge. Ours is no exception.

My challenge is a 33-year-old young man. He’s sweet, kind, and thoughtful. Many years ago, he decided to live a very different lifestyle from that of his parents and siblings. Whatever his reasons are isn’t pertinent; what matters is that he is my son.

Over the years, with heavy hearts, my husband and I tried to meet this challenge by listening to advice from a caring rav, friends, and family members. I joined a support group for other parents in my situation and consumed every article and book about our dilemma.

There were no accusations or guilt thrust upon him, just total affection whenever I saw him — including when I ran into him on the street with his bare head. That was a bitter source of consternation to me, yet I greeted him with a wide smile, holding back the tears that threatened.

I did not allow his nonreligious lifestyle to consume all of my thoughts. Baruch Hashem, I have other children and grandchildren, a good marriage and fulfilling job to put my energies into. I just made sure my son knew he was loved.

But still, a few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, my heart was turning inside out about his situation. I decided to take on a mitzvah that was personally difficult for me to do in the zechus that my son would return to mitzvah observance. Yet there are soooo many enticing mitzvos to take on — I wasn’t sure which to choose!

Out of the blue it suddenly dawned on me. I would make challah. I have never enjoyed making challah — the stickiness of the dough, flour everywhere, the time and energy required… I’d always found some sort of excuse why I could not make challah. Now, I decided that I’d throw my energy into this mitzvah. The following week, as I made a list of what I needed at the grocery store, I added two new items: bread flour and yeast.

I wasn’t ready to become a die-hard challah baker, so I planned on making challah just once a month, for Rosh Chodesh. What better time to start than Rosh Hashanah? The first week I tried out a recipe from a brand-new cookbook I treated myself to. When I separated challah from the dough, I recited many names: the people I knew who needed a shidduch, parnassah, a refuah sheleimah. Of course, my most fervent prayers were reserved for my son. Then I turned on the local news station and also had a good long chat with a friend while I braided the dough.

I decided to serve my specially prepared challah on the first day of Succos, when all my children would be together. I could see the astonishment on everyone’s faces when my husband cut the two lopsided challos. “Ma!” they exclaimed, “you made this?” They oohed and aahed, although, frankly, the challos didn’t taste all that great.

I gazed around the table at everyone dressed in their Yom Tov finest, smiling and chatting. And, suddenly, an overwhelming sadness engulfed me. The sliced challos, placed in a special serving dish in the center of the table, was a reminder of who was missing — my son, for whom I had specifically made the challah. Tears cascaded like a waterfall down my cheeks. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 540)