Friday Night at Home

The traditional Shabbat evening rituals are best shared with family and friends.

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Most rituals described here as being performed traditionally by "the father" or "the mother" may be done by either parent, and those assigned to "the husband," or "the wife" by anyone over the age of bar or bat mitzvah. The author's observation that Shabbat is best experienced in community points up the value of learning from the practices of other households and of inviting others into your own home on Shabbat for meals, study, and other shared observances. From The Jewish Catalog, reprinted with permission from the Jewish Publication Society.

With the mood of Friday evening being gently feminine and infused with the aura of a wedding, it is a particularly sensual time, replete with good food, dim candlelight, songs, quiet talk, and enjoyment of both the physical and spiritual love of the family. It is a time for the spiritual growth of the family and the community.

The communal aspect of Friday evening, indeed, of all of Shabbat, should be emphasized. Shabbat is best celebrated and most fully experienced from within a community. Particularly if you are just beginning to come to Shabbat, search out a community or communities with whom to explore it.

friday night at homeLighting Shabbat candles

This marks the formal initiation of Shabbat.

Kabbalat Shabbat

This is a mystical prayer service made up of six introductory psalms (which represent the six weekdays as well as the kingship motif), "Lekha Dodi" (representing the coming of Shabbat and the queenship motif), and the psalm for the Sabbath day.

Ma'ariv--the evening service--follows. In the Amidah [the core prayer of Jewish worship services] is the central reference to creation (Genesis 2:1-3). At the conclusion, it is customary to wish everyone else a Gut Shabbos or a Shabbat Shalom, a good and peaceful Shabbat.

Blessing of the Children

After Kabbalat Shabbat, on arrival home, it is customary for the father to bless his children. The traditional blessing is, "May God make you like Ephraim and Menasheh" (for the males) and "May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah" (for the females). The father places his lips on the child's forehead and holds the child while blessing him/her.

Shalom Aleichem

The family or community, at the table, sing "Shalom Aleichem"--"Peace Be unto You" (found in the siddur, the prayerbook). This is a welcoming and an offer of hospitality to the angels who accompany us and the Bride [as the Shabbat Queen, the symbolic presence of Shabbat, is sometimes known] during Shabbat. "Angels of peace, may your coming be in peace; bless me with peace, and bless my prepared table. May your departure be in peace, from now and forever. Amen."

Woman of Valor ("Eshet Chayil")

The husband sings to his wife the verses from Proverbs 31:10-31, extolling her virtues and declaring his love and appreciation. Although this has fallen into some disuse and has come under considerable attack content-wise, it can be a quite significant and beautiful ritual.

Kiddush--Sanctification

This is recited over a full (brimming) large cup of wine. The wine symbolizes joy and the full cup symbolizes overflowing joy and bounty. On Shabbat there should be nothing missing from total physical and spiritual completion. Kiddush may be recited and drunk while (a) standing, (b) sitting, or (c) standing while reciting and sitting while drinking. There are a number of variations for holding the cup. Of particular note: place the cup in the palm of the right hand with the five fingers curled upward holding it. This symbolizes the five-petaled rose, the symbol of perfection, of longing for God (the petals reach upward), of the people of Israel.

The text of the kiddush can be found in the siddur. The first half is an account of the completion of creation on the seventh day (Genesis 1:31-2:1-3). The introductory phrase va-y'hi erev va-y'hi voker--"and there was evening and there was morning"--is said in a low tone. This allows the emphasis to fall on the first four words of kiddush: "?yom ha-shishi. Va-y'khulu ha-shamayim--"the sixth day. The heaven and the earth were finished"--the first letters of which form the Tetragrammaton, the holy four-letter Name of God.

After this we recite the blessing over the wine.

The second half of the kiddush recalls both the creation and the exodus from Egypt, the paradigm for all physical and spiritual redemptions and rebirths, and concludes with the blessing on the sanctification of the Shabbat. If wine is not available, the kiddush can be recited over the twin hallot [braided breads]. Simply substitute the blessing over the bread for the one over the wine.

Challah

Following the kiddush, the hands should be washed in the ritually prescribed manner. When everyone is reseated, the hallah cover is removed from the hallot [two loaves of braided bread, in memory of the double portion of manna received by the Israelites in the wilderness], and ha-Motsi--the blessing over the bread--is recited. The hallah is then cut or broken, and distributed to each person.

The First Meal--Zemirot

It is a mitzvah to eat three meals on Shabbat: one on Friday night, one on Saturday after the morning service, and one late Saturday afternoon before Shabbat ends. The first meal is a large one, with many courses. Before partaking of each course, some people say, "Likh'vod ha-Shabbat"--for the honor of Shabbat--as a kavvanah, intention, to the act of eating. During and after the meal, traditional songs--zemirot--are sung. Some of these may be found in the siddur. These zemirot for Friday night are quite beautiful, and while reflecting the mood and feeling of Shabbat, also add an important element to the setting. Sing a lot. Sing other songs (Hebrew, Yiddish, English) as well, if they fit in and contribute to the Shabbat mood. The zemirot on Friday night are generally in 3/4 time--the grand waltz. Following the meal is the Birkat ha-Mazon (Grace after Meals) with the special additions for Shabbat.

The Night

After the meal, the time before going to sleep is usually spent talking to family or friends, and/or in the study of Torah.

Shabbat is the crowning glory in the life of the Jew. Countless generations of Jews followed the advice of Shammai the Elder who, whenever he found some especially tasty bit of food, would set it aside to be eaten on Shabbat. Jews who lived in poverty would deprive themselves all week in order to honor the Sabbath with light, wine, and proper food.

Why are Shabbat meals considered so important? If the Sabbath is a time of spiritual joy, why the concern with eating and drinking? The tale is told of a king who invited one of his subjects to come and dwell in the royal palace. Said the subject to the king, "I have a friend whom I love so dearly that I never allow myself to dwell apart from him. Only if you invite him to be with me can I accept your invitation. The soul refuses to leave the body; true joy can happen only when they rejoice together as one."

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

Sharon M. Strassfeld is co-author of the Jewish Catalog series.

Richard Siegel

Richard Siegel is the Interim Director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at HUC-JIR. He worked for 28 years at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the last 16 as Executive Director.