Why do we have challah? Why do the two challah loaves have to be covered and until when?
The origin of challah comes from our ancestors 40 years in the desert after escaping Pharoah and slavery in Egypt (Mitzryim). In the Torah (Exodus 16:22-26) Ha Shem provided the tribe with a daily batch of manna, an edible substance, "a fine flake-like thing." However, Ha Shem sent the Israelites two portions of manna on Friday, prior to the Sabbath, and none on Shabbat.
Our modern day challah reminds us of manna miracle as our ancestors wandered the desert, after their freedom from Egyptian slavery. Traditionally, we have two braided loaves of challah. While the word challah, our Sabbath bread, does not appear in the Torah, challah is derived from the Hebrew root halal. Challah means dough that has been separated. One of our 613 mitzvots requires us to separate a small portion of the challah prior to baking, burning it in the oven. This symbolizes a sacrifice.
Challah is traditionally braided in either 3 or 6 braids. But why are the challahs braided?? Well I have not found a very satisfactory answer, quite frankly. Most of this is based on Midrash, which of course is quite fascinating. Some scholars say that 3 braids represent Creation, the Exodus, and the Messianic era to come. Others say that the 6 braids represent the 6 days of the week. Others say that the braiding represents unity of our people, which only Shabbat can achieve.
In some of our traditions some Jews salt their challah, as salt is the symbol of our eternal covenant with Ha Shem. Others dip their challah in honey, as Shabbat is the sweetest day of the week. Some folks do both!
During the High Holidays, on Rosh HaShannah and often throughout Sukkot we eat round challahs, symbolizing the end of one year circling into the beginning of the new year.
Now to give the answer to why we cover the challah loaves! After we light the Shabbat candles we recite the Kiddush, despite the hierarchy of reciting the blessing for wheat things (challah in this case) over grape items (wine in Kiddush). So the Sages said that we must cover the challah as we recite the Kiddush so that we don't "embarrass" the challah, since we are saying the blessing over grapes before the wheat. Yup, it is just that simple. We remove the challah cover when we recite the HaMotzi.
Technically one can use just about anything to cover the challah so it is not shamed. BUT since it is Shabbat, the best day of the week and we bring out our finest, a beautiful challah cover is used.
Bring on my shameless promotion of my challah covers! Seriously, I totally enjoy creating challah covers and most of mine are one of a kind. I love using beautiful colors and fabrics, and especially focus on the Torah colors of turquoise and purple. My challah covers often can be used for any holiday (Yom Tov) or Simcha. Some I design especially for Shabbos. I offer the HaMotzi blessing on many of them. Certainly ask for your custom modern challah cover that you will use for years and pass down to your family.
|Batik Hamsa Purple sea green turquoise Challah cover Shabbat centerpiece mat Hebrew reversible|
|Modern Challah cover HaMotzi blessing centerpiece mat Earthy leaves Batik Star of David applique|
|Quilted log cabin style Challah cover centerpiece mat Hebrew hand embroidered Shabbat Shalom|
|Musical Notes Challah cover HaMotzi blessing centerpiece mat|
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Kate Rachel Lozier
owner/designer, TuffBags / Racheltreasures
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