“Shabbat Shalom” (or “Good Shabbos”) is the special greeting between people, even strangers, said on Shabbat. It is a greeting that means that one should have a Shabbat of peace.
Friday night is a unique time. It is the point at which the world undergoes a transformation from the mundane to the holy. As the sun sets in the horizon, Jews in every corner of the globe are called upon to participate in the sanctity of the moment. Shabbat is a time when we are able to slow down and draw closer to the Divine within us. For a full 25 hours, the world comes to a halt. Our focus turns from work, finances, the computer, and our phone to the home, the family, rest, our inner selves, and our souls.
On Shabbat you will notice that people dress differently, eat differently, and greet people in a unique way. All of the elements come together to create this true island of time within our week.
As the sun sets, Jewish women light candles to welcome the Shabbat. In Jerusalem, it is customary to light forty minutes before sunset.
Some women light two candles every week, while others add another light for every one of their children.
In addition to honoring the Shabbat and adding physical light to one’s home, it is said that lighting Shabbat candles creates a sense of peace in the home (shalom bayit). The lit candles, the joy of having the entire family together and the special foods eaten bring an atmosphere of tranquility and blessing to the home.
After lighting the candles, the woman covers her eyes and recites the blessing over the Shabbat candles.
The moments immediately after reciting the blessing, while the woman’s eyes are still covered, are an extremely meaningful time for prayer. The flames of the candle symbolizes the soul, striving ever upward to unite with Divinity. The lit Shabbat candles are an eternal symbol of the spirituality of Shabbat.
Jewish tradition speaks of two angels- a good angel and a bad one – that accompany the family on their return home from Shabbat prayers. Finding the house prepared for Shabbat, the good angel blesses the family that the next Shabbat will be the same, and the bad angel is forced to respond ‘Amen”. But if the home is not prepared for Shabbat, the evil angel wishes that the next Shabbat will be the same, and the good angel is forced to respond “Amen”.
Shalom Aleichem – which means “May you have peace” – is the time honored poem sung to address these accompanying angels. Their visit should be in peace and in blessing.
Eishet Chayil, “A Woman of Valor” is a twenty-two verse poem with which King Solomon concludes the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31).
Preparing for Shabbat is a labor of love for a Jewish woman, but it is still a labor! The Jewish woman has always been the anchor of the family and the keeper of traditions. On Friday night, her husband shows his admiration by serenading her with King Solomon’s poem.
Kiddush literally, “sanctification,” is a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat. The words of kiddush testify that God rested on the seventh day of creation. Shabbat is not just a random day picked out of the week but expresses an awareness that the world was created with rest integrally part of the creative process. By reciting kiddush, we connect our personal observance of the Shabbat to the Divine creation.
The head of the household holds up a cup of wine (or grape juice) in a special goblet. He recites the kiddush blessing and then sips from the wine. All participants in the meal also drink from the wine in their glasses.
Two challahs, a special braided bread, are served at each meal of the Shabbat. This “double loaf” commemorates the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. The manna did not fall on the Sabbath or holidays; instead, a double portion would fall the day before the holiday or sabbath.
The challahs are dipped into salt which has several meanings:
Before eating of the challah, it is customary to wash ones hands- three times to the left and three times to the right. In this manner, we re-enact the rites for spiritual cleansing preformed by the priests (Cohanim) in King Solomon’s Temple.
SHHHH! It is customary not to speak in-between the washing of one’s hands and the blessing over the challah!
Oneg Shabbat is a special commandment to take pleasure in Shabbat. This includes singing songs and eating tasty foods at a beautiful table. It is now time to enjoy the Shabbat meal!
On Shabbat, there is a tradition is to sing nigunim- melodies from Chassidic tradition that have no words. They are considered special songs that lead to a path to higher consciousness and personal transformation. It is believed that words in a song are actually defining and limiting; a nigun, on the other hand, can break through to the infinite, going straight up to the Divine.