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Why do we cover the Challah on the Shabbat table?

by Rabbi Shais Taub

  

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Manna Memories

When the Jews traveled for forty years in the desert, they were fed with manna, “bread from heaven” which rained down upon them each day. 

On Shabbat, however, the manna did not descend.  Rather, a double portion was granted on Friday, one portion for that day and another for the day of rest.  Indeed, this is why we place two Challahs on the Shabbat table, to commemorate this double portion, the Challahs symbolically representing the manna fed to us in the desert. 

The manna, which were small pellets of complete nourishment, would fall early in the morning and be protected by layers of dew.  Thus, by placing the Challahs between the protective layers of the table cloth or Challah cutting board from underneath and the Challah cover from above, we create a model of the manna miracle at our Shabbat meal.

The food which has the highest priority of all is - wouldn't you know it? - bread, the quintessential staple food, the proverbial "staff of life"
A Blessing

There is a practical aspect to the Challah covering as well, related to the rules governing the various blessings recited over food. 

Not only do different types of food require different blessings, but there is actually a hierarchy when it comes to these blessings so that if one intends to eat many different food types in one meal – each one requiring its own blessing – one must take care to bless and eat those foods according to the protocol of kedima (literally: "priority" in Hebrew). 

The food which has the highest priority of all is – wouldn’t you know it? – bread, the quintessential staple food, the proverbial “staff of life.”

At the beginning of the Shabbat meal, we recite the Kiddush prayer, officially announcing the sanctity of the day and thereby fulfilling a positive Biblical commandment to “remember” the Sabbath. In order to emphasize the significance of this verbal proclamation, ancient rabbinic authorities mandated that these words be recited ceremonially over a cup of wine. However, a slight issue arises:

How can we bless the wine – and make it a center of ceremonial importance no less – when such an archetypical sustenance as bread lies before us on the table?! 

The simple solution is to “remove” the bread by concealing it from view, in other words, by placing a cover over the challah before Kiddush.


 


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Shabbat » Shabbat Meals

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Challah
A loaf of bread. Usually refers to: 1) The section of dough separated and given to the priest (today that section is burnt). 2) The sweetened, soft bread customarily consumed at the Sabbath meals.