act of lighting Shabbat candles before sunset marks
the actual beginning of the Sabbath. A famous Jewish
legend tells us that Adam opened his eyes on the eve
of Shabbat and found himself in the dark shadows of
the Garden of Eden. He was very afraid when suddenly
he stumbled upon two stones. He picked them up and struck
them, starting a fire. Feeling the warmth as a gift
from God, it was then that Adam spoke the very first
blessing ever heard on earth: "Praised are You, God,
Sovereign of the Universe, who creates the light of
Although it is customary for women to light the Shabbat
candles, Jewish tradition permits (and we encourage)
men to also perform the ritual. It is customary for
parents to bless their children before sitting down
to the Sabbath meal. This provides them with a wonderful
opportunity to express appreciation for their children.
Through the touch of a parent's hands or the sound of
a parent's voice, children can feel and respond to the
love their family has for them. Let your children bless
you as well and one another.
Because happiness and joy are synonymous with Shabbat,
it has become customary to begin the meal by reciting
the blessing over a cup of wine, called the Kiddush.
The Kiddush says thank you to God for creating the world
and giving us Shabbat. Washing of the hands (netillat
yadayim in Hebrew) with a blessing follows the Kiddush.
It is the Jewish way of sanctifying the act of eating.
This is followed by the blessing over bread, called
Hamotzi. The bread eaten on Shabbat (and festivals too)
is usually a braided loaf called challah (right). It
is tradition to place two challot on the table, recalling
the double portion of manna God provided for the Israelites
in the desert on the eve of the Sabbath.
Following all the blessings is the Shabbat meal, which
provides the family with an opportunity to enjoy one
another's company while eating at a more leisurely pace.
The festive food and singing of z'mirot (Sabbath
songs) between courses adds to the delight of the meal.
Reciting the blessing after the meal ("Birkat
Hamazon") serves as our expression of appreciation
for God's generosity in satisfying us with such a festive
The sequence of rituals performed at the midday Shabbat
meal, eaten after the family returns home from synagogue
services, follows that of the Friday evening celebration,
with some variations.
Shabbat afternoon is a time for a variety of experiences
that change the constant pace of daily life. Some people
take a nap to refresh their energies. Others use the
time for reading or study, alone or with friends. A
traditional text for study on Shabbat afternoon is Pirkei
Avot, known in English as the Ethics of the Fathers.
For children, special Shabbat games and stories can
fill the leisurely afternoon with many pleasurable activities.
The last Shabbat meal on Saturday is called the se'udah
sh'lishit ("third meal"). It is usually a simple
dairy meal. For even this simplest meal, it is still
customary to perform the blessings over the hands and
bread, sing Shabbat songs, and chant the blessing after
The ritual conclusion of Shabbat is deferred until about
an hour after sunset. When three stars are visible in
the sky, it is time for the Havdalah ("separation")
service. As a home ceremony, Havdalah is especially
appealing because it makes use of all of our senses.
The Havdalah ceremony uses a wine cup and a plate, a
spice box containing aromatic spices (cloves or cinnamon),
and a special braided candle (left) that has more than
one wick. The blessing over the wine sanctifies our
re-entry into the secular world. The blessing over the
spices symbolically ensures that the memory of Shabbat
will be sweet and lingering. And the blessing over the
braided candle reminds us of God's first creation of
When the Havdalah ceremony concludes, everyone present
wishes one another a shavua tov ("good week").
Excerpt from Sacred
Celebrations: A Jewish Holiday Handbook
By Ronald H. Isaacs and Kerry M. Olitzky
Ktav Publishing House
Hoboken, New Jersey, 1994.