There is a well-known minhag to bake schlissel challahs for the Shabbat following Pesach. Schlissel is the Yiddish word for key. Some challah bakers have a tradition of shaping their challah in the shape of a key while others simply implant a key to their homes into their challah dough. Either way, it is intended as a good-luck symbol for economic success.
On Thursday, May 2, the SAR High School Parent Association hosted a Schlissel Challah Bake. According to event organizer Dana Jason, “We wanted to do a Challah Bake because there has never been one at the high school before and we thought it was a nice way to bring the community together. We timed it with teacher appreciation week, and every teacher at the academy and the high school will receive two small challot from the Challah Fairy.” The keynote speaker of the event was Shira Schiowitz, a Judaic Studies faculty member. Schiowitz revealed, “The message that I would like to discuss is how baking challah represents our partnership with Hashem and the actualization of our potential.”
Rebbetzin Yael Axelrod of New Rochelle explained, “I bake schlissel challah because I remember my mother, before she regularly baked challah every week, would always bake challah for the Shabbos after Pesach. For us, it was a real treat, and a custom that many Jewish women have adopted. My mother used to wrap a key to our house in foil and bake it into the challah, but I make my challah in the shape of a key.” Axelrod added, “To me, schlissel challah represents the fact that God alone holds the ‘key’ to our sustenance. Specifically, on the first Shabbos of having bread after a full week of not having any, when we appreciate the challah that much more, we must remember that it is Hashem who provides for all of our physical needs.”
Leah Shemtov of the Chabad of Stamford also hosted a post-Pesach challah bake on Thursday, May 2. Shemtov stated, “The purpose of the challah bake is since people really missed chametz, and they are excited to have chametz, why not bring them together to enjoy chametz and to do a mitzvah?” Even though shaping her challah in a key form or placing a key in the challah is not her minhag, Shemtov does explain to her participants the three main reasons behind schlissel challah.
“During the Omer we count 49 days,” explained Shemtov. “Each of the days is similar to a gate of wisdom, and each gate has a key.” Shemtov clarified that the challah in the shape of a key is the key to open these gates. Shemtov continued with the second reason: “For 40 years the Jews wandered in the desert. As Hashem provided the Jews with mun (manna) every day, they didn’t have to worry about their livelihood.” Shemtov described how Hashem holds three keys: those of livelihood, children and health. “Since this is the first Shabbat after Pesach, we are asking Hashem to unlock and open the storehouse of livelihood and help us sustain our families.” The final explanation provided by Shemtov was the idea that during Pesach the gates of Heaven are open. “After Pesach it is our desire to keep these gates open and to unlock the gates in our hearts and to keep us open to Hashem and to teshuvah.”
By Judy Berger