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There are a lot of symbols we use on a typical shabat dinner and I am always asked what they symbolize, so here’s the list:

  • Candles: Because light brings joy and we should rejoice on shabat.
  • Two candles: Because we are commanded to keep (shamor) and remember (zachor) the shabat.
  • Kiddush: To fulfill the commandment to remember the shabat.
  • Drinking wine: Because wine is a source of joy and we should rejoice on shabat.
  • Not speaking after washing hands: I don’t know why, that’s just how it’s done.
  • Two challot (loaves of bread): Because on Fridays the Israelites in the desert got a double portion of manna (see also Why do we have two challot on Shabat?).
  • Covered challa: There are several explainations, among them that the manna in the desert was enveloped by dew to keep it fresh (see also Why do we cover the bread for kiddush?).
  • Salt on challa: Maybe be because sacrifices at the temple always had some salt associated or because salt makes sure it tastes good (see also Salt and Challa).

Washing hands and praying birkat haMazon after eating are not special for shabat, but done for every meal that involves bread.