Celebrate the First Shabbat After Passover with a Shlissel Challah | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Celebrate the First Shabbat After Passover with a Shlissel Challah

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The key-shaped challah symbolizes openings

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Hasidic communities mark the first Shabbat after Passover with a special challah as they transition back to the world of chametz. They shape the first post-Passover Shabbat challah into a key. The key, or shlissel as it is called in Yiddish, is meant to symbolize openings, passageways, and transition.

Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Kovitz (b. 1726), a student of the Baal Shem Tov, taught that the gates of heaven are open during Pesach and for a short period following. In his view, the key challah focuses our prayers during that interlude. The reading of Song of Songs for Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days of) Pesach, particularly the verse (5:2) “Open for me, my sister” echoes the theme of the key.

Some views about the Omer identify each day of the counting with a gate and entrances. The Kabbalist Jacob ben Sheshet of Spain connects gates with the Torah as in the idea that “Fifty gates consist of five sets of ten gates, each set suggesting one of the five parts of the Pentateuch.”

In the middle of the night of Shavuot study, known as the tikkun, the heavens are said to open briefly. The key of the challah accesses this heavenly aura.

As we shift from matzah to challah, our gratitude counts especially now. We are beckoned to count ahead to the joys of Shavuot, to open our minds to Jewish learning, to extend our hands metaphorically to our neighbors, and to expand our hearts to God’s presence.

Tips for implementing a key design in your challah:

1. Find an elegant old key, clean it well, and impress it deeply into the top of a braided challah. Bake your challah as usual and serve with the key in place. See challah recipes here.

2. Shape the challah into a key form using a twisted or braided dough.

3. Create several knots from the dough and align them into the shape of a key.

4. Use a non-edible shaping dough recipe to mold a key to place on top of a braided challah.

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