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Why Do We Cover the Challah Bread on the Shabbat Table?

Why Do We Cover the Challah Bread on the Shabbat Table?

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There are a number of reasons for this tradition.

1. When our ancestors traveled in the desert for forty years, they subsisted on the manna that miraculously fell from heaven every day. The challah we eat on Shabbat is actually in place of that manna. Since the manna was encased between layers of dew that preserved its freshness,1 we envelop the challahs between the tablecloth (or cutting board) and the challah cover, reliving the manna miracle at our Shabbat meal.2

(Actually, on Shabbat the manna did not fall. Rather, a double portion fell on Friday—one portion for that day, and another for the day of rest that followed.3 That is why we place two challahs on the Shabbat table, to commemorate this double portion that fell on Friday in honor of the Shabbat.4)

2. In Talmudic times, before tables and chairs, banquet participants were served their meal on three-legged trays, which were brought to them by the waiters. On Shabbat, these table-trays would be brought out only after kiddush, in order to demonstrate that the meal is being served in honor of the Shabbat, which had just been sanctified during the recitation of kiddush.5 Today, we don’t carry small tables in and out. Instead, we set the table with the challah, but cover it until the time when it would have been carried in. This delivers the message that the meal only begins after, and because of, kiddush.6

3. Not only do different types of food require different blessings, but there is actually a hierarchy that regulates the order in which we recite blessings and eat various foods.

Generally, the seven foods with which the land of Israel is praised—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates7—take priority over other foods. In the event that one is eating two or more of these foods, they are eaten in the order that they are mentioned in the Torah.8 Since grain is mentioned before grapes, it would follow that the bread should be eaten before the wine.

We therefore cover the bread (“wheat”) in order that it not be “shamed” by the fact that we drink the kiddush wine (“grapes”) before we partake of the challah.9

Please let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Menachem Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

Rashi to Exodus 16:14.

2.

Tosafot to Pesachim 100b.

3.

Exodus 16:5 passim.

4.

Talmud, Shabbat 117b.

5.

Talmud, Pesachim 100b.

6.

Tosafot, ad loc.

7.

Deuteronomy 8:8.

8.

Seder Birchot Hanehenin 10:13.

9.

Tur, Orach Chaim 271, quoting the Jerusalem Talmud.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
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Discussion (14)
October 15, 2012
To Nathaniel
There are those who require two loaves (following the opinion of Rambam). However, it is quite common just to use one loaf--or even not eat bread during this meal.
Rabbi Menachem Posner
October 13, 2012
Are 2 challot necessary for seudat shlishit?

Thank you, Shavua tov
nathaniel
NY, NY
September 12, 2012
Truth is light
Thank you for adding to God's glory to our table by shedding more intricate light on the bread of life. SHALOM!
Anonymous
London
September 2, 2012
Seudat Shelishit
Since the first reason - that we do so because of the mannah - applies to all three meals, there are indeed those who cover the bread for the third meal as well. This custom is not universal, however.
Rabbi Menachem Posner
August 31, 2012
Covering the Challot at Seoudah Shlishit?
Is it customary to cover the Challot at Seoudah shlishit?
Sue
London
February 1, 2012
the seven foods
Is there any easy way to remember the seven foods with which the land of Israel is praised? Like an acronym of some kind?
Lisa Aubert
February 1, 2012
Why Cover The Challah?
No wonder we continue to grow! Each question opens our heart to new answers and new questions to more fully appreciate the beauties of Torah. Each day more joys. Thanks for your insightful and illuminating piece, Rabbi; it left my heart smiling.
Anonymous
Kingman, Arizona
January 16, 2010
covering the halla
To keep the flies off!
David Chester
Petach Tikva, Israel
January 15, 2010
To Aaron Baruch:
You are very welcome; I am happy that you enjoyed the article!

Shabbat shalom,
Menachem Posner for Chabad.org
January 15, 2010
Thank you Rabbi!
Shalom Rabbi Posner:

Thank you kindly for the terrific explanation!

Many blessings,
Aaron Baruch
Cleveland, OH
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