What is the symbolism of braiding the Shabbat challah?
One of the answers that has always resonated with me is based on a Kabbalistic explanation for the opening prayers of the Kabbalat Shabbat, the Friday evening service. The lead-up to the beloved Lecha Dodi prayer consists of six prayers taken from Tehillim, the Book of Psalms.
The Kabbalah teaches that each one of those six prayers is an opportunity to mend whatever it is that needs fixing on each of the corresponding days of the week. It’s a chance to bring some measure of mental closure to the unfinished business of a typical week.
This practice is not a substitute for taking care of our responsibilities; we can and must resume them with renewed vigor in the coming week. Rather, Shabbat is a brief period of pausing/cooling off from all the complexities of our lives. This is a Jewish way of saying: “The stuff of my life is too integral a part of me to just simply leave behind, but I still need to figure out a way to embrace my life in all its complexity, without allowing it to imprison me emotionally or stunt my spiritual progress.” This is the magical spell that is cast onto the collective Jewish soul, as Shabbat gently flows over us and we are reminded to reclaim the enchantment of our lives.
From this perspective, the braiding of the challah symbolizes the weaving of our weekday mentality into a Shabbat state of mind, a braiding of the weekday mindset into a more sublime Shabbat-driven consciousness.