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Challah, the Sabbath Bread

Its Meaning and Traditions

By Bonnie Saul Wilks
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Posted in Jewish HolidaysShabbat on April 4, 2018

In Jewish history, challah symbolizes manna, the special food that God provided for the Israelites during their years of wandering in the desert. It is traditional to have two loaves at the Sabbath table, because God provided enough manna on the sixth day for the seventh.

Challah is an essential part of the meal. Some Messianic communities fast on Friday until the Shabbat meal, making the first bite of bread extra delicious and very meaningful. But in Jewish thought, the Sabbath is a day to eat, rest, and rejoice, and not a day to fast.

Challah is a sweet bread made with egg and considered a richer bread than ordinary white bread eaten everyday. In pre-Holocaust times throughout the former Soviet Union and Europe, Jews considered egg bread a rich man’s food. Sugar or honey was added to make the challah even more special. The challah is made with three or more strands to create a braid. Several reasons explain the braiding of the challah.

The three strands are symbolic of the commands to observe Shabbat that appear in the Ten Commandments. One strand represents the word zacharor to “remember.” A second strand represents the word shomaror to “guard.” The third strand is for b’dibbur echad and represents the words “spoken as one” or that these commands of “remember” and “guard” become as one unit.

Finally, the Shabbat signifies and reminds us of three different time periods: the creation of the world, the Exodus from Egypt, and the Messianic era.

Fancy braided breads may be used for Jewish High Holy Days or weddings, created with four or more strains of dough. On the Jewish New Year or Rosh HaShana, the braided challah is formed into a circle representing eternity or the circle of life. Sometimes golden raisins are baked with the bread to make it sweeter and more festive. Poppy seeds or sesame seeds may be baked on top.

It is also said that although a knife is placed on the table at Shabbat, it is not used to cut the challah. The Bible recounts that the patriarch Abraham, tested by God, did not use a knife on his son, Isaac. God provided a ram. Therefore the bread is torn and not cut. A salt shaker is also placed by the bread and sprinkled on the bread by the father before the bread is passed around the table. There are several reasons for this:

1)To remember the salty tears of bondage in Egypt or our bondage to sin
2)To remember that all covenants are ratified by salt
3)To remember that as believers we are to be salt in this decaying world.

Traditional and Messianic Prayer–Blessing over the Bread
(HaMotzi Lechem)

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam hamotzi lechem min haaretz. Amen.

Blessed are You, O Lord,our God, Ruler of the universe, who gives us bread from the earth.

After the blessing, the father sprinkles salt on one loaf of bread, breaks it in half, pinches one bite to eat, and passes it around the table. Everyone pinches a bite to eat.

Reposted by permission from the book

    Sabbath: A Gift of Time

by Bonnie Saul Wilks