Chayei Sarah / Shabbat Mevarchim Kislev
How to Cut Your Challah:
Halacha, Customs, and Reasons
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In the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah we read how Yitzchak brought Rivkah into the tent of his mother Sarah and married her. According to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 60:16, see also Rashi on Gen. 24:66), Yitzchak noticed four ways in which Rivkah resembled his mother Sarah.
1) She kept the doors of the tent open for guests.
2) The dough that she made was blessed (i.e., it increased miraculously). This can be referring to a blessing in all of their financial affairs (Nezer HaKodesh cited in the Artscroll Midrash Rabbah).
3) The lamp she would light before Shabbat would last the entire week.
4) There was a cloud which represented the Shechinah (Divine Presence) hovering over the tent.
According to the Yefeh To’ar (on the Midrash Rabbah) these represent four positive qualities that both Sarah and Rivkah had.
1) They had the power of prophecy as indicated by the cloud of the Shechinah. (See Megillah 14a that Sarah was one of the seven prophetesses. See also Targum Onkelus on Gen. 27:13 that Rivkah said, “It was said to me prophetically that no curse will come upon you.”)
2) They were kind and generous as evident from the fact that their doors were open for guests.
3) They were thrifty and not wasteful as symbolised by the blessing in the dough (and in all of their possessions).
4) They were peaceful and not confrontational as represented by the constant presence of the Shabbat candles which are lit for the sake of peace in the home (see Shabbat 23b).
Four Possible Qualities when Seeking a Wife
In addition, these qualities symbolize the four attributes one may seek when looking for a wife. (See Ta’anit 31a as to the four groups of women and what they would say on the 15th of Av.)
1) Good Family. This is symbolized by the cloud of the Divine presence which rests upon the Jewish people in the merit of their distinguished heritage.
2) Wealth. This is symbolized by the blessing in the dough.
3) Beauty. This is symbolized by the lamp which remained bright.
4) Kindness. This is symbolized by the doors which remained open.
Purity in the Challah
In addition, Yitzchak also noticed that RIvkah would make the dough and separate the Challa while in a state of ritual purity. In this respect,too, she was like Sarah, her mother-in-law, who would not serve bread that had become ritually impure. (See Bava Metzi’ah 87a.)
The rest of this article will discuss the laws of how to cut challah on Shabbos. Many of these laws apply to how one should cut bread during the week as well. In practice, however, most people use sliced bread during the week, and therefore many of these laws would not apply.
Large and Small
If one is planning to eat both challahs of the lechem mishnah (double loaves for Shabbat) on Friday night, he should slice and eat the larger one first (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 168:5). If he is only planning to eat one, it is better to leave the larger one for the Shabbat day meal as this meal is considered the more important one. If one is having more guests on Friday night, he may cut the larger one on Friday night so that he will have enough for all of them (Choveret Aliba Dehilcheta, 49, page 40).
White vs Whole Wheat
If the two challot for lechem mishnah are comprised of one that is white and one that is whole wheat, one should cut and eat the one which he plans to eat. If one plans to eat from both of them, he should cut and eat the white challah first as it is considered to be of superior quality (Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid). One who prefers the taste of the whole-wheat challah should cut and eat that one first (Piskei Teshuvot vol. 2, 168 note 5).
Wheat Challah vs. Spelt, Rye or Oat Challah
If the two challot of one’s lechem mishnah are of different types of grain, he need only cut and eat the one from which he plans to eat during this meal. If he plans to eat from both of them, the law is as follows (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid and O.C. 211:1).
- If one is wheat challah and the other is spelt, rye or oat challah, he should cut and eat the wheat challah. This is true even if the challah of the other grains is white while the wheat challah is whole wheat.
- If one is spelt challah and the other is oat challah, he should cut and eat the spelt challah.
- If one prefers the oat or spelt challah over the wheat challah, he may cut and eat whichever one he chooses.
Marking the Challah
It is customary to mark the challah before the blessing of Hamotzie by cutting the surface of it very lightly. This should be done in the area that one plans to cut (Mishnah Berurah 274:5).
Cutting the Challah
One should make the first slice of challah in the area that he marked (Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato, vol. 2 55:24). But one need not search for the mark and cut in that exact spot (Ketzot HaShulchan 88, Badei HaShulchan 8).
One should cut through the entire challah so that the piece from which people eat will have some from the top of the challah and some from the bottom (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 267:2).
It is best to cut large slices of challah for oneself and others as this indicates that he cherishes the Shabbat meal (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 274:2).
Eat before Giving Others
One should cut a slice and eat some of it before cutting other slices and giving them to others so as not to interrupt between the blessing and the eating of the challah. (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:20)
Some say that one may cut a slice for one’s wife before eating from one’s own slice (Piskei Teshuvot 167 note 55, based on the Arizal).
Cut More from the Same Side
After slicing a piece for oneself and eating some of it, one should slice more pieces from the side of the challah from which he sliced a piece for himself (Mishnah Berurah 267:14). This part of the Challah is considered more important since the hamotzieblessing was made directly on it.
Don’t Pass Hand to Hand
It is customary not to place the challah directly into people’s hands as this is considered a sign of mourning (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:21). This applies only to the slice over which the hamotzie was recited (Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, quoted in the Dirshu Mishnah Berurah 167 note 62). Some say that one need not be particular about this (Nimukei Orach Chaim, cited in Piskei Teshuvot vol. 1 of Hilchot Shabbat, 274, note 57).
Don’t Throw the Challah
One may not throw the challah as this is not considered respectful (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:21). In some communities it is customary to throw the challah and one who has that custom may continue to do so.
Eat a Kezayit Right Away
It is proper to eat an olive-size piece of challah in the beginning of the meal without interruption (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:4) and, preferably without talking (Ba’er Heitev. 167:9).
There are several reasons for this (see Piskei Teshuvos 167:14). Two of them are:
1) One needs to eat this amount of bread in a short amount of time in order to be able to recite the Birkat HaMazon.
2) Some say that the blessing of Hamotzie on bread “covers” the brachot on the other foods only if one after eats a kezayit. We should therefore eat a kezayit in the beginning of the meal so that all of the other foods in the meal are covered by the hamotzie bracha (Dagul Meirevava beginning of O.C. 167).
May we soon merit to the time of the Eternal Shabbat with Moshiach!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach and a Chodesh Tov!