Shabbat Explained

Shabbat Explained

Every Friday night, families gather around the Shabbat table, as the mother lights the Shabbat candles, the father make Kiddush, and everyone enjoys challah and delicious food. Shabbat is an hour longer than the average day, giving people 25 hours to enjoy time away from the troubles and stress of daily life. Religious people do not use electricity and cars during the day but some secular people find Shabbat a time to go hiking or drive out to the beach, spending time somewhere new. On Saturday evening as the stars begin to appear in the sky, Havdalah is said and Shabbat is over until the following week. Let’s get more into detail about what we do on this day of rest.

As we said, Shabbat starts Friday night, actually at sunset when the woman of the household lights her Shabbat candles, set up in beautiful candlesticks. Two candles are usually lit but sometimes women light an extra candle for each child of the house. Lighting the Shabbat candles is actually a tradition, and is not mentioned in the Torah but is done as an act of Shalom Bayit– peace in the house, bringing light into the home. Some girls start lighting Shabbat candles at the age of 12 but many start lighting when they have a home of their own.

Right before dinner, everyone gathers around the table and the man of the house makes Kiddush over a cup of wine or grape juice, usually poured into a Kiddush cup. Friday night Kiddush is different from Shabbat day. Friday night involves singing Shalom Alechem and sometimes Eishet Chayel, while on Shabbat day, it is a much shorter process and can be said over any alcohol, although most prefer to use wine. The wine or juice is then passed around for everyone to take a sip from, and immediately after, everyone leaves the table to do Netilat Yadayim. Netilat Yadayim is the Jewish ritual of washing one’s hands before eating bread and is done with the use of a vessel, pouring water on each hand three times. After washing, everyone goes back to the table quietly and waits for Motzi to be said. The reason everyone stays quiet is to keep the holiness of the moment intact.

HaMotzi is saying the blessing of bread usually over two loaves of challah. When the Jews were wandering in the desert for forty years, manna fell from the sky and was enveloped by dew that fell below and on top of the manna. Before Shabbat, two loaves of manna were available for each person and lasted through Shabbat, which is why today we use two loaves of challah which are placed on a challah board and covered with a challah cover. One Motzi is said, the challah is uncovered and cut up for everyone to enjoy, followed by the meal.

After a delicious meal with all your favorite traditional Shabbat foods, the time has come to end the meal. Some have a ritual to wash their hands again although this time with a small pitcher and bowl to do Mayim Achronim, which is simply to remove anything from their hands and purify themselves before saying Birkat Hamazon or Grace After Meals, which is said after eating bread. Birkat Hamazon is basically a blessing of thanks for food, Israel, Jerusalem, and G-d’s goodness and on Shabbat, we add in an extra paragraph to honor Shabbat.

While some attend synagogue Friday night and Saturday afternoon, most at least attend Shacharit, the morning prayer, on Shabbat morning. Men, and sometimes women, don a tallit for these prayers and Torah reading. Some say that boys over the age of Bar Mitzvah should wear a tallit while others say from marriage, but either way, everyone sits quietly through the service, sing “Etz Hayim” as the Torah is passed around and sometimes, even get the change to have an aliyah to the Torah. Once Shacharit is over, everyones attend’s their synagogue’s Kiddush and go home to sometimes say Kiddush for those who didn’t attend the service, do Netliyat Yadayim, HaMotzi and say Birkat HaMazon.

At the end of the day, as three stars appear in the sky, Havdalah is said over a multi-wicked candle, wine, and sweet smelling spices. Havdalah marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new week, which can be bittersweet, leaving this holy day but moving forward to a new week of opportunity. The candle has multiple wicks because of the quote, “He who created the illuminations of fire”, which implies there is more than one fire. The sweet spices is to leave us with the scent of something good while leaving this perfect day and the wine is because any time we want to exemplify something in Judaism, we do it over wine. At the end of Havdalah, the week goes back to normal and we all look forward to Shabbat next Friday.

Although this was a quick summary, we hope you have learnt something new about this holy day that happens once a week. Shabbat Shalom!