There are a number of reasons presented for tradition of covering Challot on the Shabbat table.
• Firstly, the Challot represent the manna that fell in the desert when our ancestors wandered for forty years from Egypt to Israel. The manna miraculously fell from the skies every day and the Jewish people would simply gather it up and eat it. On Fridays a double portion would fall as on Shabbat no manna would fall. The two Challot represent the double portion that fell on Friday. It is relayed that the manna would fall onto a layer of dew and would also be covered by an additional layer of dew and this would preserve the manna’s freshness. Therefore, it is customary to place the Challot on a special Challah board and cover them with a Challah cover. so as to relive the miracle of the manna.
• In Judaism, there is a requirement to bless before and after partaking of foods. Furthermore, not all foods are considered equal in stature and there are rules regarding which food takes precedence over which when one has a number of foods to bless. There are seven foods that the land of Israel is blessed with and they are wheat, barely, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Generally speaking, they take precedence over other foods. If one eats more than one type of these foods, one eats them in the order that they are mentioned in the Bible. In the Bible, the grain is mentioned before the grapes and accordingly, the Challah loaves should be eaten before the ritual wine is drunk. However, we drink the wine before we eat the Challah as we sanctify the Shabbat through drinking the wine. Therefore, we cover the bread so as not to “shame” it by the fact that we drink the wine before eating the Challah.
• Lastly, in Talmudic times, after the Kiddush was recited over the wine, little tables would be brought out for each individual with the meal placed upon them. This was done so as to demonstrate that the meal is in honor of Shabbat which was just sanctified through recitation of Kiddush. Nowadays, we have a large table that serves everyone so we place the Challah on the table and cover it up until the time when it would have been brought out. By doing so we are essentially saying that the meal begins after and because of the Kiddush.
Food For Thought
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter once visited Kovno and was hosted by the baker. On arriving home on Friday night, the baker berated his wife for failing to cover the Challot. His wife was mortified as she recognized the distinguished guest and covered the Challot as tears filled her eyes. When the baker requested that Rabbi Yisrael make Kiddush, the Rabbi asked him if he knows why we cover the Challot. The baker confidently answered that it is to prevent shaming the Challot. At this, Rabbi Yisrael turned to the baker and asked incredulously, “Do you not think that our tradition doesn’t know that a piece of dough has no feelings and can therefore never be embarrassed? Understand that the laws are meant to sensitize us to the feelings of human beings, our friends, neighbors and especially our wives!”