Challah (taking off a small piece of dough from each batch) and Tzitzit (religious fringes on a 4-cornered garment) are two familiar Mitzvot, both listed in the Torah portion of Shlach.

What’s their connection? Another time we highlighted the Thumbs-Up connection. Both these Mitzvot are about a corner or fringe transforming the garment and a small piece of dough elevating the whole batch. See that “Challah and Tzitzit – and Thumbs Up” post here.

This time we’ll focus on a different aspect connecting these two Mitzvot, and that’s the braid.

There’s no Halachic requirement for Challahs to be braided, but that’s often the custom. One reason for the Challah braid custom goes back to Temple times when Jews offered Twelve Loaves of Showbread each week, one for each of the Tribes, that was later eaten by the Kohanim. Most households don’t bake 12 loaves (unless you are Shabbos House or something) so by doing braids, each Challah is actually a multi-Challah, and depending on how you do it, that gives you a Twelve Loaves of sorts. Say, you bake 4 Challahs, 2 for each Shabbos meal, and each one is a 3 braid. 4×3 = 12. Or if you have two Challahs on the table and you do a six-braid in each (quite elaborate by the way) that makes 12 right there. However you slice it (pun intended) while Challahs do not need to be braided, they often are.

Look closely at Tzitzit, and you also notice an elaborate braid of sorts on each fringe, especially if you look at Sephardic or Chabad fringes. But either way, all Tzitzit – no matter the community or custom – have a series of knots and coils, with specific sequencing. Interesting twist (also pun intended) on the Tzitzit coils is that Tzitzit have both linear strings (Kabbalistically representing the finite) and circular coils (which represent the infinite). According to Chabad Chassidic writings (see Derech Mitzvosecha by the Tzemach Tzedek, the 3rd Chabad Rebbe, on Mitzvas Tzitzis) the spiritual concept of Tallis and Tzitzis is to create a hybrid or synthesis between the infinite and finite spiritual light, between the G-dly light that shines within our world and the G-dly light that shines beyond it. There’s the all-encompassing surround feel of the Tallis, and the 4 specific fringes that channel and focus the light, they act as transformers of sorts (and actually resemble some of the twirly infrastructure at an electrical substation). So the (infinite) coils and (finite) strings have lots of meaning.

That takes us back to Challah. The dough starts off round. You roll it and knead it into a ball. Then you take off small pieces and roll those out into strings or strands – which are linear. The braiding process binds those strands together, weaving them as one, until a complete Challah get back some of that circular shape (we do eat circle Challah on Rosh Hashanah) maybe not a perfect circle, its more oblong than round, but it’s not a rectangle. Like its sister Mitzvah in Parshas Shlach, Tzitzit, a Challah can also represent the blending of infinite and finite in our lives.