Which Challah am I Suppossed to Open at the Seudat Shabbat?



L’kavod Harav,

Why is it that we place the challahs the way we do at Hamotzi on Shabbat?


To the Questioner,

The Zohar (Vayakhel 205) says that Shabbat is called “Yoma D’nishmatin” – the Day of Souls. Every Jewish person receives the experience of a “neshama yetairah” - an added aspect of his soul - on Shabbat (Beitza 16a). Therefore, many of the things we do, although they may seem like “everyday” actions, are really intended to parallel certain spiritual realities that take place on the Shabbat. One such act is the blessing of Hamotzi at the 3 Seudot (meals) of Shabbat.

According to the halacha, we need to make the Hamotzi on Shabbat on lechem mishneh (two breads). The reason for the idea of "two" on Shabbat (two candles, two challot, two k’vasim [sheep used for the Mussaf sacrifice]) is explained on a simple level (P’shat) in Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim Siman 261:1 in regard to the candles: one is to parallel Zachor  and the second is to parallel Shamor.

This parallelism is based on the words of Chazal (Rosh Hashana 27a): “Zachor v’Shamor b’dibur echad ne’emru” – Zachor and Shamor were uttered by Hashem [at the time of Matan Torah] in one utterance – which the mouth [of a human being] cannot utter, nor the ear [of a human being] can hear.” At Matan Torah, this was one of the miracles that took place: The words Zachor and Shamor were uttered simultaneously.

On the simple level (P’shat) in regard to the halacha, the utterance of both of these words together comes to teach us that women are also obligated in the positive mitzva of Shabbat [to say the bracha of Kiddush] – even though it is time bound. Since a Torah rule is that women are equally obligated in all Torah prohibitions as the men (Pesachim 43a), Chazal learn from the fact that Zachor (an inference to the positive [“to do”] mitzvot of Shabbat) and Shamor (an inference to the negative [“not to do”] mitzvot of Shabbat) were said in one utterance, comes to teach us that whoever is obligated in the one is obligated in the other. Since women are definitely obligated in the prohibitions and “negative commands” of Shabbat, they are also obligated from the Torah in the mitzva and the “positive command” of Shabbat – even though in other mitzvot of the Torah that are time-bound they are exempt (Shavuot 20b).

On the deeper (Remez) level, however, this juxtaposition of Zachor and Shamor comes to teach us that there is a connection between the Positive “giving” level, referred to in deeper sforim as “the masculine aspect”, and the Negative “containing” level,   referred to in deeper sforim as “the feminine aspect”.

This is why the idea of two candles on Shabbat hints to the parents of the home and to their unity in the form of the Shalom they create in their Home. The first candle, which parallels “Zachor”, is a reference to the man of the home and the aspect of “giving care” and action, and the second candle, which parallels “Shamor”, is a reference to the woman of the home and the aspect of “receiving the care” and restricted action (i.e. not-performing action). The two candles for Shabbat therefore hint to the unity of the man and the woman of the house.

Although the P’shat level as to why Hashem uttered Zachor and Shamor together teaches us about the unity between two types of mitzvot – the positive and negative ones of Shabbat – the deeper level of understanding (Remez) comes to tell us that the message is really about the unity between two types of people: man and woman. Why would this message have been so important for Hashem to give us, that it was worthy to have a nes (miracle) performed for it (the utterance of the two words simultaneously)[1]? It seems to us that it would have been enough to give us that same message (at least the message of the P’shat) if it had been passed down in Torah She’be’al Peh and then been recorded in the Mishna, just like most all of the other halachot of the Torah that were given as part of the Oral Law.

The Goal in keeping all of the mitzvot is to “become one with Hashem” (Derech Hashem, Chelek 1, Chapter 2:1). The way we become one with Hashem is in the form of a relationship (It’s all for the Good, Part 1, Chapter 7), and most specifically, in the form of the closest relationship known to man - the marriage relationship. Therefore, when commanding us in the Aseret Hadibrot – the skeletal basis for all the mitzvot – Hashem made it a point when teaching us of the mitzva to sanctify the Shabbat (the day that represents the ultimate goal for all of creation[2]), that the idea of the marriage relationship, which is really the goal behind all of all our mitzvot[3], must be emphasized; and He was even willing to perform a nes for that purpose.

Hashem was hinting to us from the very onset of the Mitzva of Shabbat, that Shabbat is a hint to the ultimate goal of the collective unity of the Jewish people with Hashem; it therefore includes within it the idea of unity of man and woman – the man as the one who “gives care” - being a hint to Hashem, and the woman as the one who “receives care” - being a hint to the Jewish people. This is the idea behind having two candles on Shabbat, it is the idea of bringing two sheep for the Shabbat Musaf korban, it is the idea of the contrast between the two meals – that of Friday night and that of Shalosh Seudot[4], and it is the idea represented by two challos - the lechem mishneh which are required for Hamotzi by each Shabbat meal.
The Zohar (Ra’ayah Mehemnah, Emor 98b), when discussing the mitzva of the Two Breads brought in the Bet Hamikdash (on Shavuot), states: “We have already established [that] the Two Breads [represent the sense of] Hashem’s Presence [at its two distinct levels: the sense of it on the level] above and [the sense of it on the level] below (= here in this world); and they are [to be] united as one. Similarly, [the] two breads of Shabbat [represent] the [spiritual] sustenance of one [person], that is [a combined experience of the] two – [the sense of Hashem’s Presence on the level] above and [the sense of Hashem’s Presence on the level] below (= here in this world) [being combined].”

The Sefer Even Tarshish (On the Sha’ar Hakavanot of the Ari z”l) comments: “The explanation is, the Two Breads [represent] the Two levels [of experiencing a sense] of Hashem’s Presence, the one above and the one below, and [as] they unite as one. Paralleling that are the two breads of Shabbat [which represent] sustenance of above and of below… in Sefer Yesh Schar (Dinei Shabbat, siman 12) the explanation is… that the bottom challah represents the secret of [the sense of] Hashem’s Presence below (= here in this world - corresponding to the “feminine aspect” and “containing”) - that the night of Shabbat [including the meal of the night] hints to; [and the top challah represents the secret of the sense of Hashem’s Presence above (= beyond this world - corresponding to the “masculine aspect” and “giving”) – which the meal of Shalosh Seudot hints to]; therefore, it is appropriate to open on the night of Shabbat the bottom  challah which hints to it, as described.”

This is the reasoning of the Bet Yosef (Orach Chaim 274, piece beginning  katav) who writes: “The Kol-Bo (Siman 24) has written: Some have the custom to open the bottom [challah] and not the top; and our custom is to open the top one”; and the Bet Yosef himself adds: “And I have seen Gedolim  (leaders of the generation) who open the bottom one, and I heard that this is what is correct to do according to the Kabbalah”.  
The Darchei Moshe (seif katan alef) adds: “And it is possible that what the Bet Yosef has written that he saw Gedolim open the bottom [challah], that [this was] said specifically [in regard to] the night of Shabbat. But on the day of the Shabbat or on the night of Yom Tov, one should open the top [challah]; and this is [what is] correct to do according to the Kabbalah in [its explanation of] the reason for lechem mishneh on Shabbat night and [Shabbat] day”.

This is also the way that the Bet Yosef and the Rama, respectively, pasken in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 274:1). The Bet Yosef writes: “He opens [the meal] on two loaves (that are whole); that [is,] he holds both in his hand and he opens the bottom one”.  The Rama then adds: “This is specifically on the nights of Shabbat; but on the day of the Shabbat or on the nights of Yom Tov, he opens the top one; and the reason is based on the way of Kabbalah.”

However, all this is only connected to an understanding of the Zohar, as mentioned, but not the actual writings of the Ari z”l on the topic. When discussing what the optimum way is to parallel the spiritual realities on the Shabbat at the time of reciting Hamotzi on the challot, the Ari z”l describes a much more specified and complex understanding of the spiritual levels that are paralleled at this time, rather than just the two general levels that are discussed in the Zohar. The Ari z”l outlines that a person should preferably have 12 Challot at each of the Shabbat Seudot, each one representing a certain letter of Hashem’s Name. Although even according to the writings of the Ari z”l only two out of the twelve challot are lifted to make the bracha of Hamotzi, they are not meant to be a hint to the masculine/feminine aspects of Shabbat, but rather to certain letters – which do not change in their parallelism even over the course of the changing elements that the meals of the Shabbat are parallel to. Therefore, according to the Ari z”l, the challah to open for the bircat Hamotzi is the same throughout all the seudot of Shabbat: the two challot are placed one next to the other, and when are lifted to say the bracha are placed together at their base, and the right one is always the one that is opened.

While there are many Yerei Shomayim among Klal Yisrael today who follow the Ari z”l’s practice to have 12  challot by each of the 3 Seudot of Shabbat, a prevalent minhag in Klal Yisrael has become that even if one prepares only two challot per seudah – as required according to Shulchan Aruch – the challot are braided from 6 strands of dough each, thus forming the two baked challot into being a representation of the 12 challot by means of the combined total of their strands of dough (Likutei Ma’hariach in the name of Siddur Iyun Tefillah).  Thus, even if one does not have 12 challot at his Shabbat meals, he could nonetheless have in mind the intentions outlined by the Ari z"l through the two challot that he uses.

Based upon the approach of the Bet Yosef and the Rama that the bottom challah be opened on Friday night, the Bach (Siman 274, piece beginning u’votzeiya) takes issue with the fact that we have a rule in halacha not to pass over a mitzva (Yoma 33a) [and when positioning the challot one above another, it is always the top one that comes to a person's hand first]. Based on this issue the Taz (Orach Chaim 274:1) therefore suggests, that on Friday night one should place the bottom challah a bit closer to him, so that the first challah closest to him will now be the bottom one, and he will be able to open that one first on Friday night.

A similar but different suggestion is given by the Magen Avraham (274:2) to solve the issue: On Friday night one should take the top challah – which is the first one that comes to his hand – and then, just as he is ready to say the bracha, he should place that top challah that he took first beneath the other challah - so that it now becomes the bottom challah – and after the bracha he should open that challah. In this way he is fulfilling opening the bottom challah on Friday night as prescribed by the Rama, but without passing over the challah that came first to his hand. 
In Summary: On Friday night you place the two challos in a way that one is above the other with the bottom one being a bit closer to you, and after the Hamotzi you open the bottom one. If this format is difficult, alternatively, immediately prior to the bracha of Hamotzi, you can just take the top challah and put it beneath the other one, so that you will be opening the (now) bottom one right after the bracha. At the other two Seudot of Shabbat– the day meal and Shalosh Seudot (and at the night Seudah of a Yom Tov, as well) – you open the top challah, and so there is no need for a special positioning of the challot, other than to place one above the other. All this is for someone whose customs follow the level of P’shat, as outlined in Shulchan Aruch. For someone whose customs follow the level of Sod as outlined by the Ari z”l, one should prepare 12 challot for each meal of Shabbat (they can even be small challot) [or he can prepare two challot which are made of 6 braids of dough each], and then the two challot that he says Hamotzi on are placed side by side, are held during the bracha in a way that they are placed together at their base so that they appear as one, and then the challah to the right side is always the one that is opened.

With blessings,
Rav Nachum  
[1] Hashem does not favor performing nisim unless there is no choice to affect the result except through a nes, see Shabbat 32a.
[2] Shabbat represents the seven thousandth year, when the physical world as we know it will reach its full completion (Rabbenu Bachayai, Vayikra 25:8).
[3] See Rashi on Shmot 19:17 where the idea of Chatan and Kallah is mentioned at the time of Matan Torah; and Rashi on Shmot 31:18 where the idea of Chatan and Kallah is mentioned again at the completion of the time of receiving all the mitzvot from Har Sinai. 
[4] It is beyond the scope of this tshuva to explain the specific spiritual parallel of the second Shabbat meal, and how it differs from both that of Friday night and of Shalosh Seudot.