Question of the Week:
I noticed on Friday night at the meal that before you blessed the Challah, you made a small cut in one of the loaves. What is the meaning of this custom?
There are two reasons for making a cut in the Challah before the blessing. One reason is technical, the other mystical.
The technical reason is that we are supposed to minimise the time gap between making a blessing on food and eating it. So really when eating bread, we should start cutting the slice before we make the blessing. But on Shabbos we can't do that, because on Shabbos the bread we bless must be whole, not cut. Shabbos is the day that brought wholeness and completion to creation, and so we honour it by blessing on complete loaves.So we have a conflict. On the one hand we are supposed to cut the bread before the blessing so as not to delay between blessing and eating, but on the other hand we can't cut the bread before the blessing, because then it won't be whole. So we compromise. We don't actually slice the bread, but we make a small mark so as to quicken the slicing but still leave the loaf whole. This is the ideal way to deal with two conflicting forces. Come up with a third option that satisfies both.
That's the technical reason. Here's the mystical one. By making a small cut on the bread, we are actually placing G-d's name onto the Challah and inviting the divine presence to join our meal.
There are many names of G-d in Hebrew. The holiest of divine names is spelt Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh. It is this name that we form on the Challah. The little cut is in the shape of a Yud, a small line. The five fingers on each of our two hands that hold the Challah are the two Hehs, which is the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. And the Challah itself is in the shape of a Vav, a straight line between the two Hehs. So as we grasp the Challah and make the blessing, we literally invoke G-d's name onto our bread.
These two explanations for slivering the Challah - compromising between two conflicting demands, and stamping G-d's name on our food - represent the two most important elements to a Jewish home, harmony and holiness. Harmony means creating balance in our relationships with our fellow, holiness means enhancing our relationship with G-d. The Shabbos meal is the perfect scene to work on both - finding harmony among conflicting viewpoints around the table, and creating holiness by bringing more G-dliness into the conversation.
This is the symbolism behind the slicing of the Challah. That little slice is in fact pretty big.