What Is The Significance Of The Challah Cover?

Explore the meaning behind the custom of covering challah at the Shabbat table.

Judaism is full of interesting customs and laws. One of the most familiar customs that we’ve embraced is the covering of the challah when we recite the Kiddush prayer over wine, or grape juice, on Friday night and Shabbat day.

While there is a rational reason according to Jewish law, the deeper reasons are even more fascinating. Let’s begin with the reasoning according to Jewish law:

When two different foods appear before us, each one requires a blessing to be made over it. Jewish law describes how priorities exist between blessings, and that some blessings should precede others. For example, we make a blessing over foods that come from the ground, such as tomatoes or cucumbers, and a different blessing for foods that grow on trees, such as apples, pears, or mangoes. The blessing on tree fruit is considered to be a priority over the ground vegetables, and needs to be done first if both foods are present.

So, what about the blessings over wine or bread?

When it comes to wine and challah, the law is that bread is a staple, and should have the blessing be made over it first. However, on Shabbat we have a challenge, because we need to make kiddush on the wine first to welcome in the Shabbat! The rabbis gave us a solution: cover the challah, this way it’s as though the challah isn’t there, and you can make the blessing over the wine first, followed by the blessing for the challah.

But there’s another, deeper reason for this custom. And that’s to do with the manna that fell to earth to feed the Jewish people in the desert for forty years.

In addition to receiving a double portion for Shabbat, manna would arrive covered underneath and on top with a layer of dew that would keep it fresh. We remember this every Shabbat by having a double portion of challah, and by covering our challah.

One final reason we cover the challah: is so we don’t embarrass it! Why would the challah be embarrassed? Well, since the challah should have its blessing before the wine and be eaten first, the challah may be ashamed that, in this case, it cannot be eaten first. So to “cover its embarrassment” we cover the challah while we bless the wine.

What does this mean? How can challah, which is an inanimate object, feel shame and embarrassment?

Of course it doesn’t actually feel these things, but the Rabbis tell us that we should still be sensitive to the feelings of others. Embarrassing someone is considered a terrible thing to do, so we should train ourselves to be sensitive to others by being sensitive to other objects as well.

So, every time we see the challah covered on the Shabbat table, we should think to ourselves that if challah could feel shame, how much more so could our friends, families, and loved ones.

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