For generations, some Jewish communities have had the minhag of baking what is commonly referred to as shlissel challah for the Shabbos after Pesach.
In recent years this minhag has taken on a life of its own. Many families have rediscovered what was for them was a long-forgotten custom; others chose to “adopt” this minhag even though their ancestors may not have practiced it. The fact that it is widely attributed to be a segulah for parnassah has added significantly to its popularity.
There are various ways to practice this custom. Some add to the top of the challah a piece of dough shaped like a key. Others make an indentation with a key in the challah prior to baking, and yet others bake the challos with a key inside them. Some try a combination of the above.
The earliest written source for this minhag is believed to be the sefer Ohev Yisrael, which contains the divrei Torah of the Apta Rav, zy”a, and was first published by his grandson, Harav Meshulam Zusia, the Rebbe of Zhinkov, zy”a.
The Apta Rav refers to it an ancient minhag, adding that minhag avoseinu vadai hu Torah — “the custom of our forefathers is certainly Torah.”
Some of the explanations he gives are according to Kabbalah, but he also gives the following reason:
Reaching Eretz Yisrael, Bnei Yisrael continued to rely on the mann as their source of sustenance until the offering of the korban omer on the second day of Pesach. From that day on they no longer ate mann, but food that grew in Eretz Yisrael. This was the time when that they had to start worrying about their parnassah, which until then had literally fallen from Heaven.
The zemiros customarily sung on Motzoei Shabbos include a tefillah in which we implore the Ribbono shel Olam to open for us the various “gates.” Among them is the gate of parnassah.
Thus, the Apta Rav says, the keys on the challos symbolize our plea to the Ribbono shel Olam that he should open for us the gates of sustenance.
Pesach is also a time when wheat — which symbolizes sustenance in general — is judged.
The Rebbe Harav Pinchas of Koritz, zy”a, once explained that just as “he who runs away from honor, honor pursues him,” the same way he who flees from earthly comforts, such comforts will pursue him. Pesach is a time when we abstain from eating many foods. On Pesach we limited our earthly comforts, and in that merit we are showered with prosperity and comfort.
Still, as commendable and important as this venerated minhag is, hishtadlus for parnassah involves more than just baking shlissel challah.
As the Apta Rav himself teaches elsewhere in Ohev Yisrael, we have to “prove” to the Ribbono shel Olam that we know how to use what we are given. This begins with acknowledging that everything we have and receive is a gift from Hashem. Then, by using our resources for deeds of tzedakah and chessed, we merit the Heavenly blessing that these resources increase.
According to one view, the most potent segulah for parnassah is clearly stated in the Torah itself. The Torah (Devarim 14:22) bids us aseir te’aseir — “Tithe you shall tithe,” and Chazal explain the double lashon as aseir bishvil setis’asheir — “Tithe so that you will become wealthy.” According to some views, this applies only to the tithing of produce. Rema (247:4) however brings a view that this extends to maaser kesafim — the tithing of money — as well. (All agree, of course, that no one can ever lose money by distributing funds to tzedakah.)
There is no doubt that Klal Yisrael performed this segulah this year in an exemplary fashion. While too many families are still struggling to pay off debts and make ends meet, astronomical sums of tzedakah were distributed to the poor in the weeks preceding Pesach. In addition to the huge sums raised and distributed by various organizations and maos chittim campaigns, countless individuals acted on their own as well and came to the assistance of impoverished friends, relatives and even casual acquaintances.
Some speculate that the magnitude of tzedakah and chessed being performed by Klal Yisrael today dwarfs even the heroic acts of kindness that existed in the previous generations. Since so many acts of tzedakah are performed discreetly, there are no statistics to research. It is certain, however, that the descendants of Avraham Avinu are perpetuating their golden legacy. Sefarim tell us that Geulah sheleimah will come in the merit of the chessed of Klal Yisrael; may it be speedily in our time.