Guest post by R. Jeffrey Saks
Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the founding Director of ATID―The Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education, in Jerusalem.
The custom some women (or men) have of baking the house key into the challah on the Shabbat following Pesach (also known as a shlissel [=key] challah) is explained with the following reasons:
- Based on “Pitchi Li Achoti, Ra’ayati…” (“Open up, my darling…” — Shir HaShirim 5:2), on which the Midrash states “Pitchu li petach ke-chudo shel machat…,” (cf. Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5, s.v. “Kol Dodi Dofek“) = something like “Open your hearts (in teshuvah) like the eye of the needle, and I (God) will open the rest like [a very large opening].
- According to Kabbalah on Pesach the gates to heaven were open, and following Pesach the lower gates are shut, and it’s up to us to open them again, therefore on the first Shabbat we put the key on the challah to show that through the mitzvah of Shabbat we are opening the locks [original source?].
- In the desert the Jewish people ate from the manna until after Pesach upon entering the land (with the bringing of the Omer, see: Josh. 5:11), at which point the ate from the produce of the land, and became dependant on their livelihood for the first time (now they had no manna). The key in the challah after Pesach is a request the God should open the Sha’arei Parnasah (gates of livelihood). Alternatively, the manna began to fall in the month of Iyyar, and this Shabbat is always Shabbat Mevarchim Iyyar.
See: Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim, pp. 249-50.
See: Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6, pp. 1419-20 for a photo of a shlissel challah (and other “special” challot). It seems (from both of the above sources) that the minhag was to bake the key on top of the challah not inside (a la the old jail break trick).
My wife prepares a shlissel challah each year — however I had to go out and buy an antiquated looking skeleton key, both to make it look more authentic, and because the top of keys in Israel (“pladelet” keys) are generally made of plastic, and there’s a fear it will melt in the baking! We have also begun the custom of using a shlissel challah for the
meal on the night of Yom HaAtzmaut — for the reasons see the story related at the beginning of O! Jerusalem, pp. 9-10 (and at note 7 here) — ve-ha-mavin yavin.