Sources & Philosophy
Challah – The Custom and its Meanings
Challah is special white bread served on Shabbat and holidays. Possibly the custom of placing challah on the Shabbat table corresponds the breads placed in the Tabernacle (Leviticus 24, 5-9) and that were customary in the Sanctuary as well. The source of the name challah is found in the commandment of 'Separation of the Challah' – the commandment to dedicate a piece of dough as a contribution to a priest. Since it was customary to prepare bread for Shabbat and for the entire week, the bread for Shabbat was called – challah.
The Challahs of Shabbat are also called "Doubled Bread" – (two loafs of bread) in commemoration of the double portion of manna that the Holy-One-Blessed-be-He lowered from heaven to the Children of Israel in the desert, so that they would not have to gather manna on Shabbat, thereby desecrating the Shabbat (Exodus 16) Some braid the challah out of seven strands of dough to symbolize the seven days of the week, or – the seventh day, some braid it using three strands of dough, and some braid it with two strands to symbolize the two commandments of the Shabbat: "Guard the day of Shabbat to sanctify it" and "Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it".
Challahs are covered with a special covering, generally embroidered and decorated.
The blessing to recite is: "Blessed are you G-d our Lord, king of the universe, who takes out bread from the land", after which, the bread is cut by hand and handed out after being dipped in salt, to those participating in the meal. The commandment is to eat a piece of bread at least the size of an olive. The symbolic significance of Challah of Shabbat lies in its reflection of the creation and its abundance, and man who integrates with nature and produces his food.