quick summary: Challah is one of the seven charitable gifts given to the priests or eaten in purity when the holy Temple stood in Jerusalem . These seven gifts of charity rectify our emotional realm.
Challah and the Rectification of the World of Chaos (Tohu)
Above we mentioned that the absolute (sometimes called “necessary,” or “simple”) numerical value of “fish,” in Hebrew is 7, with no need to calculate its “reduced value,” which immediately associates fish with the world of Emanation, the level of reality that is simply “with G-d.”
Let us now look at fish from a more qualitative aspect. Traditionally, the reason that we eat fish on Shabbat is that, for some mysterious reason, it says in Kabbalah that thegilgulim, i.e., the spiritual presence, of tzadikim (holy, and righteous individuals) are to be found in them. Indeed, a tzadik can also be defined as someone who lives at the consciousness level of Emanation. Fish are known to swim with their eyes always open, as if they were always aware, never taking their eyes off their surroundings. Because of this, the sages—the wise men—of each generation, who are called “the eyes of congregation” for they are always attuned to the state of every individual, are likened to fish. Wisdom itself is many times referred to as “a sea” (as in “yam hachochmah”). It is in this “sea” of wisdom that the greatest sages, like Rav Hamnuna Saba, one of the great sages of the Zohar (and whose name means “the great fish”), swim. The wisdom that the sages have is likened in Kabbalah and Chassidut to oil, which also relates to the famously beneficial oils that fish contain.
The wine, over which we make kidush on Shabbat, clearly corresponds to the mother principle in Kabbalah, the partzuf associated with the sefirah of understanding and the world of Creation. As the sages say, “Wine goes in and secrets are revealed.” There are actually two types of wine (white and red), one of which is jovial and the other inebriating. The two types are explained in Chassidut to be symbolic of the inner and external experience of meditation.
It is customary to drink wine between the fish and the meat on Shabbat. The simple reason is that by doing so we clearly separate the fish and meat, a requirement ofhalachah (Jewish law). The more inner reason is that by doing so we join the fish and the wine, the father and mother principles, or the sefirot of wisdom and understanding, which in the Zohar are described as “two companions that never part.” One might ponder what “secret” it is that comes out when one drinks (jovial) wine. Chassidic teachings identify this “secret” as the love of your fellow Jew (ahavat Yisra’el), that is usually concealed deep within your heart. Indeed, wine relaxes many people and permits them to more freely express their affinity to others. In that respect, wine also precedes meat, as we shall now see.
Meat alludes to the heart, the spiritual seat of the sefirah of beauty, or the world of Formation, which is the source of emotions. One of (if not the) most important goals in leading a Jewish life is to have what is described as a “soft heart,” i.e., not to have a heart that is hard like a rock. Like meat, the heart needs to be well cooked in order to be made tender and soft. The metaphorical equivalent of “cooking” in this case is the study of Chassidut. Chassidut teaches us to have a “flexible” heart that can bend to accommodate other people’s needs. By being soft, the heart also loses any inborn proclivity it may have to be judgmental and to seek retribution for any wrong doing done against us as individuals. The sages encourage the softening of the heart in their well-known phrase, “A person should always be soft like a twig and not hard like a cedar.”1Softening and relaxing the emotions of the heart in the world of Formation is a prerequisite to rectifying our actions in the world, thus leading to the next, lower level of consciousness.
As illustrated already a number of times in our series, challah corresponds to the sefirahof kingdom, and the world of Action, the feminine part of our model. Kingdom is also related to the digestive system (see Body, Mind, and Soul). To fully digest the meal, you need to end the meal with more challah (digestion is further finalized with the drinking of one last glass of wine following the grace said after a meal; one more taste of Divine meditation).
letter of G-d's Name
|component of Shabbat table
|tip of yud
The Secret of Gefiltefish
We can use our newly found structure for the components of the Shabbat table to explain the meaning of the well-known Shabbat food, Gefiltefish. Gefiltefish (literally, “filled fish”) is made by grounding a cooked cold-water fish with matzah or bread. In our model, fish corresponds to the world of Emanation and the sefirah of wisdom and bread (challah) corresponds to the world of Action and the sefirah of kingdom. Mixing the two together yields a well known Kabbalistic principle termed, “the father founded the daughter,” the father being wisdom, the father principle, and the daughter being kingdom. What this principle indicates is that wisdom is the foundation upon which the (rectified) reality (the world of Action and the sefirah of kingdom) rests. Or, in the more practical terminology of Chassidut: achieving a rectified approach to interaction with others (whether it be in speech or in action) is dependent on having a clear feeling of selflessness. On Shabbat this means being able to take the special wisdom and insight that is attainable only on Shabbat, and bringing it down into our lives.
1. Ta’anit 20a.