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Home » Shabbos

Shabbos: The Rituals

Submitted by on November 4, 2005 – 1:57 amNo Comment | 2,787 views


 We often refer to the day of Shabbos as “Shabbos the queen” or “Shabbos the
bride”. The underlying message is that Shabbos is a distinguished guest whom we
are honored to welcome into our homes.
The preparations for this honored guest are very extensive. Shopping and
cooking usually begins two or three days before Shabbos. Delicacies that don’t
usually appear on the dinner table throughout the week are prepared for Shabbos.
A festive three-course meal is the norm in many traditional homes.
To a religious Jew, Friday is only a semi workday, we rush home early to
prepare for Shabbos. The house is cleaned, family members bathe, and dress in
the finest Shabbos clothes. We set the table elaborately; gleaming candelabras,
braided loaves of bread (Challah), the finest dishes, glasses and silverware are
used at the Shabbos table.
(Note: Celebrating Shabbos does not require elaborate settings and gleaming
silverware. Many Jewish families have conducted beautiful and festive
celebrations without these material accoutrements. The point is that on Shabbos
we utilize the best of our possessions.)

Evening Observances

Frenzied activity during the last few minutes before sunset usually reaches
a crescendo. However, as soon Shabbos arrives, peace and quiet settle over the
house. Just before sunset, the family gathers around the table. Mothers and
daughters light the candles, bathing the entire home in the warm and serene glow
of Shabbos.

In this calm and peaceful atmosphere the father places his hands on the
heads of his children and chants an ancient benediction. “Yesimcha Elokim
K’efrayim V’kimenashe,” “May G-d grant that you grow in the spirit of Efrayim,
Menashe, (Joseph’s sons) Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah.” In this traditional
blessing he wishes them physical, and spiritual, health, happiness and
The family then departs for Shul (Yiddish for synagogue) where they pray
and chant inspirational Shabbos melodies. Upon their return, family and guests
gather around the table and recite the Kiddush (Benediction) over a full glass
of wine. In the Kiddush blessing we express our gratitude to G-d for taking our
ancestors out of Egypt and for giving us the Shabbos.
The festive Shabbos meal is now served. Children recite passages that
they’ve studied during the week and adults exchange Torah thoughts  and
insights. Together everyone raises their voices in song, expressing their
appreciation for the beauty and splendor of Shabbos. 

Day Observances

Shabbos morning services usually last two to three hours. Additional
prayers are recited in honor of Shabbos, the rabbi delivers a sermon and the
weekly Torah portion is read.

(Moses established a tradition of dividing the Torah into separate
portions. Every Shabbos we read one portion, subdivided into a minimum of seven
segments, during the morning service.)
A communal Kiddush (luncheon) most often follows the services During the
Kiddush, community members get a chance to catch up with each other, sing
together, and share inspirational stories and words of Torah.
After Kiddush study groups of various kinds are usually set up. Every
community attempts to create as many Shabbos study groups as possible, providing
classes on various topics and on various levels.
Many fathers take advantage of this time to study with their children.
Families have opportunity to gather and enjoy a peaceful Shabbos afternoon. Many
people even take time out to enjoy a peaceful nap.
A few minutes before dusk, the community gathers again for afternoon and
evening services. A reading of the Torah once again highlights the afternoon
service. The two services are divided by a light communal meal called Seuda
Shelishit (the third meal). It is customary for the rabbi to share his thoughts
on the weekly Torah portion during the course of this meal. 

Motzaei Shabbat – Satruday Night Observances

Evening services are followed by the traditional Havdalah ceremony.
Havdalah is performed both communally at the Synagogue and privately at home.
Over a cup of wine, we usher in the new week and thank G-d for giving us the
peaceful calm of Shabbos.
During the course of Havdalah it is customary to sniff at the fragrance of
sweet spices and light a candle. The spices reinvigorate our souls as the extra
measure of Shabbos holiness departs for the week. The candle is symbolic of the
first fire that Adam lit on the first Saturday evening in history.
Adam was created on a Friday. The Midrash teaches that Adam’s first night
did not darken. Saturday night was Adam’s first experience with darkness and he
then built the fire first in history. We commemorate the joy and courage that
Adam drew from the light he created that night.
A departing meal is held on Shabbos eve called Melavah Malkah (escort the
queen). The Melavah Malkah lends a special sense of holiness and warmth to the
spirit of Saturday night.
The Lurianic teachings of the Zohar provide a fascinating insight to the
Melavah Malkah meal. The number seven is prominent in the order of creation.
Seven days to create the world, seven days of the week, etc. The number seven is
therefore symbolic of the natural order of our world.
Accordingly, says Rabbi Luria, the number eight symbolizes the
supernatural, the divine. In fact the Zohar speaks of messianic era as symbolic
of the number eight.
In our weekly cycle, Saturday night best represents the numeral eight. For
the seventh day has already passed and the first day has not yet begun.The
Melavah Malkah meal is therefore considered “the meal of Moshiach”
Indeed Chassidim have always eaten this meal in anticipation of the
imminent arrival of Moshiach. They even refer to this meal by the name of S’udsa
D’dovid Malkah M’shicha (The meal of David, father of the messianic king).
Having read this description of the proper observance of Shabbos, one can
well understand why Shabbos has come to be so revered, cherished and loved in
the Jewish tradition.