This week’s Parasha contains the origins of a beautiful tradition in many homes. We may hold up the challot (plural for challah) as we say the “motzi” (blessing over bread) at the Shabbat dinner table.
Parashat Emor contains the mitzvah of the “Lechem Panim”—the show breads. Every Shabbat, the Kohanim placed 12 loaves on the Shulchan (the display table). The loaves remained there the entire week. The following Shabbat the Kohanim removed the loaves, replaced them with new loaves and ate the loaves that they had just removed. [Vayikra 24:5-9] What kind of reward is that—eating week old bread?
One of the miracles in the Holy Temple was that the “show breads” remained fresh during the entire week. Not only did they not become stale, but they remained warm, as if freshly baked. Our sages report in the Talmud that the Kohanim would lift the Shulchan to show the loaves to the people and say, “See how dear you are before Hashem—miraculously, the loaves are removed a week later in the same state that they were placed on it.” This ritual did not exist with respect to any other miracle that occurred in the Mishkan or the first Holy Temple and there were many others.
What do the loaves have to do with the Jewish People such that their retained freshness is symbolic of God’s love for us?
We are taught that the 12 loaves correspond to the 12 tribes. We are taught that each of the 12 tribes may have had slightly different approaches and outlooks. We do not have discernible tribes any longer, but we certainly have Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Chasidim and many, many subsets based on country, region, thought, philosophy and tradition. There is no one to say that any one of them is better than the other. God loves each of them and each of us.
The message of the 12 challahs and the 12 tribes is that we are all loved by God. When we hold the challahs at the Shabbat Dinner table and show them to our children we are sending a message of how precious each of them, each member of our family, each guest and each person is to us.
The tradition of the challahs at the Shabbat dinner table is deeply rooted and deeply precious. As we say the “motzi” and thank the Almighty for all our blessings and as we hold the challahs tenderly and dearly as we do so, we can imagine a symbolic hug from the Almighty. We share and emulate that love of God with our children and family from Shabbat to Shabbat and from generation to generation.
If none of this is your tradition, maybe consider it. What could ever be wrong with freshly baked bread and a hug from someone you love?
This Shabbat we learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman. We will begin at 9:45 a.m. and finish in time for the Sermon. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.