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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.

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.
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Clara Chamvu Kasonde Lusaka, Zambia, Africa May 26, 2015

Very,very helpful.Thank you very much. Reply

Rabbi Menachem Posner 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. Reply

nathaniel NY, NY October 13, 2012

Are 2 challot necessary for seudat shlishit?

Thank you, Shavua tov Reply

Anonymous London 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! Reply

Rabbi Menachem Posner 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. Reply

Sue London August 31, 2012

Covering the Challot at Seoudah Shlishit? Is it customary to cover the Challot at Seoudah shlishit? Reply

Lisa Aubert 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? Reply

Anonymous Kingman, Arizona 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. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel January 16, 2010

covering the halla To keep the flies off! Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org January 15, 2010

To Aaron Baruch: You are very welcome; I am happy that you enjoyed the article!

Shabbat shalom, Reply

Aaron Baruch Cleveland, OH January 15, 2010

Thank you Rabbi! Shalom Rabbi Posner:

Thank you kindly for the terrific explanation!

Many blessings, Reply

Menachem Posner, author October 30, 2009

RE: why do we eat challah According to Halacha, all kosher bread is okay. So why is braided bread traditional? Please see Why Is Challah Braided? for a fascinating explanation. Reply

Anonymous October 29, 2009

why do we eat challah Why isn't regular Kosher Bread not good enough? like Ryebread
or other White / Whole Wheat Bread. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva , Israel July 12, 2009

covering the challah Surely it is better to say instead of "not shaming the challah" to "avoid embarassing it" in front of the reciting of kidush over the wine.

This teaches us of the great importance of not causing offense to others, a basic lesson from Hillel the Elder.

With every good wish.. Reply

Yaakov Fogelman jerusalem, israel October 29, 2008

covering the challah: Rav J. B. Soloveichik explained the notion of "not shaming the challah" as reminding us of the importance of necessities, e.g. bread, as opposed to luxuries and pleasures, e.g. wine. Even though we are ordered, at Kiddush, to put the wine first, oneg shabbat, we must not slight the bread, and cover it "to avoid it's embarressment," when we slight it. Reply

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