Challah… What Shabbat Really Means (Part 2) – By Marc

Breaking bread… It can literally mean the pulling and tearing apart of bread, as is evident at many a Shabbat meal or after Shabbat services or at a post Bar or Bat Mitzvah Kiddush lunch.

It’s tradition, but heck, we’re also hungry, and so the mad dash and grab begins!

Metaphorically, “breaking bread” means to have a meal with someone… to break bread together. It’s a communal thing.

So breaking challah at a meal brings both of these ideas to one table… And on Shabbat, of course, the salt comes into play. Each of us is supposed to dip the challah in salt, though some hosts will cut the challah in nice, neat slices and sprinkle salt on each for their guests. Though I believe tradition says to “tear” the bread.

I had never seen this until a few years ago. I know, I know… I have so much catching up to do… and you have to be wondering what kind of Jewish education I had growing up… Well, I’m here now!

So why the salt? Sadly, I am supposed to be cutting salt out of my diet… Not only do I love it and how much flavor it adds to most things, but it has strong symbolism in Judaism. It was considered a vital and essential element… It’s a preservative… It was used in sacrifices… It filled the Dead Sea… 

Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I am also supposed to be cutting out carbs, too, so bagels and challah are to be limited. AAAGGGHHH! Come on, now!

According to Wikipedia, “In the Torah, salt symbolizes the eternal covenant with God… Moreover, adding taste to food, salt represents a covenant with God that has meaning and flavor.”

My friend Shlomo said something similar… about salt making food taste better and this is what Hashem does in our lives… He makes it and everything better.

Salt and Torah are inextricably linked.

And so is challah. I’ll never forget the amazing, huge and intensely dark challah I had for my first Shabbat in Israel. I had never seen anything like it. It was truly magnificent… a site to behold… a literal feast for the eyes and the palate. It was something I have never seen here, and was presented with such love and care, and you could see how much it meant for our hosts to share it with us.

Challah… a loaf of bread… Eggs, flour, water, yeast, sugar and salt. Simple. And yet, so complex. Just stop and think about all the people who need to be involved… all the steps that need to be taken…

The ingredients come from farmers and farms… chickens, eggs… wheat, harvested and milled…

Then think of all the work we do to prepare and bake. If we truly fathom and contemplate where the challah comes from, it is easy to regard it as holy. It truly does take a village… a community to create.

And then a prayer… a blessing… the HaMotzi.

“Blessed are You, Ad–ai our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Prayers before we eat… the HaMotzi on bread… gives it a holiness… elevates it. Prayers after do the same. They show gratitude and appreciation and the recognition of miracles, large and small.

According to My Jewish Learning.com: “First, it draws attention to the privilege of having food to eat. Second, the blessing’s words connect an ordinary meal with a symbolic lesson about the end of time.”

Food, a meal, bread, challah is supposed to be shared. This is so important. On Shabbat, “breaking” bread has another meaning… a whole other element that I am fascinated by… The offering… the breaking of the dough.

According to Chabad.org: “The halachic definition of challah is a reference to Positive Mitzvah #133. It entails separating a section of dough from your kneading and giving it to a kohen. This piece of dough is called “challah.”

“The kohen and his family would eat the challah while in a state of ritual purity. The rabbis decided that a home baker should give 1/24th of the dough to the kohen, while a commercial baker has to donate 1/48th of his dough.”

How vital is this? In Pirkei Avot 5:8 it says “For not separating chalah, an annihilating hunger results.”

Being Jewish, by nature, means giving… sharing. This is what Torah teaches us… and this is a big part of what Shabbat means. We should also make sure we are taking care of those less fortunate… sharing what we have and always setting something aside for others.

My Jewish Learning further comments on the challah and the prayer by saying: “It constitutes also a statement of faith in a time to come when all will have enough to eat, free of the backbreaking work that is now required by most of the world’s population just to put food on the table.”

So yeah, using left over challah for Challah French Toast is a pretty darn good thing… as long as you are sharing bread with family, friends and neighbors.

Ironically, breaking bread regularly is what holds a family together. Breaking bread bonds. So let us all break some bread together soon!

 

 

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