This article first appeared in Hamodia’s Inyan Magazine, 2014
I know that the first Shabbos immediately following Pesach is what is known as Key Challah week, aka, schlissel challahs. What is this minhag all about? Doesn’t Hashem decree what we will make for the whole year on Rosh Hashana?
The minhag to bake schlissel challah for the first Shabbos after Pesach is a long-standing one. To quote the Sefer HaTodah by R’ Eliyahu Kitov: “The Shabbat after Pesach when we announce the coming of Iyar some…have the custom to make challah in the form of a key and to sprinkle it with sesame seeds. This is to remind us of the Mahn that fell in the desert and began falling in the month of Iyar; it also symbolizes that the ‘key’ to our parnossa (livelihood) is in Hashem’s hands. We pray that Hashem will open up his store of treasures and shower us with abundance.”
Sesame seeds are used to depict mahn as they are small and white as it says about the mahn, “they were like small seeds, white, and [tasted] as if they were dipped in honey.”
As for what is decreed on Rosh Hashana…a Jew always can use more bracha. We all want to pray that our parnossa comes through an easy and normal way, with no undue stress and hardship, so the extra tefillohs and brachos can only help.
I also interviewed Rebbetzin Sara Meisels (of Bobov) about this minhag and she had an additional background story to tell me about it:
There’s a beautiful story about the Maharal M’Prague that happened during the time that Klal Yisroel were persecuted relentlessly by non Jews with blood libels, r’l. After Lail Haseder, the Maharal was sitting and learning in his room at home; the key to the shul was with him, hung up in its place on the wall. The key suddenly fell to the ground. He picked it up and put it back on the hook. After it was hung up, it fell again. He picked it up once more. And then it fell a third time. This time he realized that Shomayaim was trying to tell him something, so he went to check the shul. When he got there, he saw that the paroches was moved out of place. He opened the Aron Kodesh and saw, hidden inside the Aron, what looked like a bottle of wine. After opening it he realized it was a bottle of blood; the non Jews were trying to set up a blood libel against them! Quickly, he pulled out the bottle, poured out the blood and rinsed it. He then poured wine inside instead.
The next morning the goyim burst into shul with the police, yelling and screaming. They went straight to the Aron Kodesh – obviously they knew where to go – and pulled out the bottle. The kehilla was very frightened but the Maharal was calm as he watched what happened next…the police opened it up and smelled it and it was only wine! They got very angry at the perpetrators and threw them in jail. Miraculously, the entire kehillah was saved. It was a huge hatzalah for the whole Jewish community.
Afterwards the Maharal wanted to do something to commemorate this special miracle. He knew that everyone bakes challah right after Pesach – especially in those years they had no other food besides the bread they made themselves – so he told his Rebbetzin to bake the challahs for that week, in the shape of a key. Afterwards, it became part of Klal Yisroel and their Kehilla for every generation. We also know that these ‘key challahs” symbolize the key to parnossa, as the Sefer Hatodah mentions.
So since nearly all of us want blessing for a good parnossa, we usually find a way to push ourselves to get those challahs done somehow, even after all the work of Pesach has just finished. I know of someone who would make extras and give it out to some of her neighbors to wish them a blessed year filled with parnossa tova…