Shabbat, blessing or bother? Take the time to learn a little about this often ignored concept, invest in a few salient pieces of judaica to enhance your experience, and sit back and experience something that can transform your life! The most important commandment in the Torah is to observe and keep the Shabbat, the Sabbath Day. The commandment was first alluded to in Genesis 2:1-3 and then officially given to the Israelites in Exodus 20:8-11. The Hebrew word "Shabbat" literally means "seven," and the LORD commanded Israel and all future generations to observe Shabbat (the seventh day) and keep it holy, which means from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Traditionally, Jewish families who observe Shabbat will light two candles on Friday evening just before the sun goes down. The woman of the home will light the candles, move her hands over the lit candles three times, then cover her eyes as she says the b'racha (blessing) that welcomes the Shabbat into the home: "Baruch ata adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam, asher kidd'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tsivanu l'hadleek ner shel Shabbat." Blessed art thou, O L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by thy commandments and has commanded us to light the sabbath lights.
Once the b'racha has been said, the woman can take her hands from her eyes and look at the lit candles, then say, "Shabbat Shalom!" This reason for this specific ceremony, repeated all over the world in Jewish homes every Friday night, is often unknown by the woman doing it! In Judaism, one must always say a b'racha (blessing) before doing an action, and so, before the candles are lit the Shabbat b'racha must be said. However, once the b'racha has been said it is Shabbat, and it is not allowed to light the candles, since lighting a fire is considered "work." How to get around this? The woman of the home lights the candles, covers her eyes so that she cannot see them, says the b'racha to welcome in the Shabbat, and then, voila, removes her eyes to see the candles which are wonderfully lit! After the candle-lighting there are readings and songs, as well as a b'racha over a kiddush cup of wine, followed by a b'racha over two plaited loaves of bread, called challah, which is broken and eaten during the ceremony.
Challah is special because it is made with an egg in addition to water and flour. It often rests on a special challah plate or tray and is covered with a challah cloth which can come in many different designs. There are two loaves of challah to remember that the Israelites, after they were freed from Egypt by HaShem, were fed by manna in the wilderness each day, but on the sixth day there was a double portion given so that they would not have to work to gather food on the seventh.
Following are the blessings over the wine and the challah: "Baruch ata adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam, borey p'ree ha-gafen" Blessed art thou, O L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. "Baruch ata adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz." Blessed art thou, O L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the ground. The Shabbat ceremony is then followed by a Shabbat meal, which is normally a good meal with a nice tablecloth and the best tableware/flatware. It is also considered a "mitzvah," a blessing, to have guests to stay for Shabbat dinner. As Shabbat draws to a close at dusk on Saturday, the havdalah ceremony commences.
During this ceremony, the father of the family lights a havdalah candle with multiple wicks. He then places his hands on either side of the flames so that there is light on his palms and darkness on the backs of his hands. He praises G-d for the separateness between the light and the dark, the Jewish people and the other nations, and Shabbat and the other six working days of the week.
He says a b'racha over the candle, a b'racha over a kiddush cup of wine, and a b'racha over a spice box filled with sweet-smelling spices. To conclude the Havdalah ceremony, the candle is doused in the cup of wine and everyone says, Shavuah Tov! Have a good week! To help you celebrate Shabbat there are many beautiful judaica items available online. Take a few minutes to browse through challah covers, challah plates, Shabbat candlesticks, kiddush/wine cups, havdalah sets, candlelighting artwork and so much more. Plus, there is wonderful music to enrich your experience by gifted musicians bringing spiritual songs such as L'cha Dodi, Barchu, Shema, and Shalom Aleichem, just to mention a few, into your home.
Adam Barnett works for Studio Shofar Judaica & Gifts, and hopes to help educate the judaica market to better understand judaica products in general. Visit his website to learn more about shabbat and other judaica items at www.studioshofar.com/shabbat.html