A Couple of weeks ago someone asked me why two candles are lit on Shabat. I remembered my own Mother's intonations on Friday evenings & replied, but with a very brief answer.
Shabbat is one of the best known and least understood of all Jewish observances. People who do not observe Shabbat think of it as a day filled with stifling restrictions, but to those who observe Shabbat, it is a precious gift from Ha'Shem, a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside all of our weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits. In Jewish literature, poetry and music, Shabbat is described as a bride or queen, as in the popular Shabbat song "Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah". It is said "more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel."
Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. It is the only ritual observance instituted in Ha'Shem's law. It is also the most important special day, even more important than Yom Kippur. This is clear from the fact that more aliyot (being called up to the Torah) are given on Shabbat than on any other day.
Shabbat is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment. The word "Shabbat" comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest.
Shabbat is not specifically a day of prayer. Although we do Daven on Shabbat, and spend a substantial amount of time in synagogue davening, this is not what distinguishes Shabbat from the rest of the week. Observant Jews daven every day, three times a day anyways. To say that Shabbat is a day of prayer is no more accurate than to say that Shabbat is a day of feasting ... we eat every day, but on Shabbat, we eat more elaborately and in a more leisurely fashion. The same can be said of davening on Shabbat.
In modern Europe & America, we take the five-day work-week so much for granted that we forget what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times. The weekly day of rest has no parallel in any other ancient civilization. In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or labouring classes. In addition, the very idea of rest each week was unimaginable. The Greeks thought Jews were lazy because we insisted on having a "holiday" every seventh day.
Shabbat involves two interrelated commandments ..... Zakhor ~ to Remember & Shamor ~ to observe Shabbat.
Zakhor ~ To Remember
Remember Yom HaShabbos, to keep it kodesh (Hebrew ~ Zakhor et yom ha-Shabbat l'kad'sho) ~ Shemoth 20:8 ~
We are commanded to remember Shabbat, but remembering means much more than merely not forgetting to observe Shabbat. It also means to remember the significance of Shabbat, both as a commemoration of creation and as a commemoration of our freedom from slavery in Egypt.
In Shemot 20:11, is explained ..... "For in sheshet yamim Hashem made Shomayim and Ha'Aretz, the yam, and all that in them is, and rested Yom HaShevi'i; for this reason Hashem blessed Yom HaShabbos, and set it apart as kodesh."
By resting on the seventh day and sanctifying it, we remember and acknowledge that Ha'shem is the Creator of earth and all living things. We also emulate the divine example, by refraining from work on the seventh day, as Ha'shem did. If Ha'shem's work can be set aside for a day of rest, how can we believe that our own work is too important to set aside temporarily?
In Devarim 5:15, while Moshe reiterates the Mitzvot, he notes the second thing that we must remember on Shabbat ..... "And remember that thou wast an eved in Eretz Mitzrayim, and that Hashem Eloheicha brought thee out thence through a yad chazakah and by an outstretched zero'a; therefore Hashem Eloheicha commanded thee to be shomer Shabbos on Yom HaShabbat."
What does the Exodus from Mitzrayim have to do with resting on the seventh day? ..... It's all about freedom. As I said before, in ancient times& societies, leisure was confined to certain classes, slaves did not get days off. Thus, by resting on Shabbat, we are reminded that we are free as a people. But in a more general sense, Shabbat frees us from our weekday concerns, from our deadlines and schedules and commitments. During the week, we are slaves to our jobs, to our creditors, to our need to provide for ourselves, on Shabbat, we are freed from these concerns, much as our ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt.
We remember these two meanings of Shabbat when we recite kiddush (the prayer over wine sanctifying Shabbat or a holiday). Friday night kiddush refers to Shabbat as both zikaron l'ma'aseih v'rei'shit (a memorial of the work in the beginning) and zeikher litzi'at Mitz'rayim (a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt).
Shamor ~ To Observe
Keep shomer Shabbos to set Shabbos apart as kodesh as Hashem Eloheicha commanded thee. (Hebrew ~ Shamor et yomh ha-Shabbat l'kad'sho) ~ Devarim 5:12
Every time you light your candles and welcome Shabbat, you're creating a fortress .... strengthening you, your family, & all of Am Yisrael.
Friday night at sundown, a transformation occurs in Jewish households across the world. As the sky becomes darker, our hearts become lighter. The anxieties from the past week melt away, and we enter the peace and joy of Shabbat. There are many wonderfully rich observances one can embrace.
Candles. Eighteen minutes before sundown, we light candles to signify the beginning of Shabbat. Ordinarily, a blessing precedes the action it is connected to. When it comes to candle lighting, we light first and then say the bracha. The candles signify the start of Shabbat, and one is not permitted to light candles during Shabbat. Therefore, we light the candles, cover our eyes, and recite the blessing. When we lift our hands away, it is as though we are seeing the candles for the first time.
Friday night dinner sets the stage for the rest of Shabbat. A traditional meal can last for hours with singing, learning and eating. There are several rituals to help elevate the experience of Shabbat dinner.
Singing. There is much singing throughout Shabbat, and there are many songs to choose from. When everyone is seated, we begin with Shalom Aleichem. It is a song to welcome the angels who escorted us home from synagogue. Following Shalom Aleichem, we sing Ashet Chayil (a woman of valour) ~ sung to women in praise of their righteousness.
Blessing the children. Traditionally, a father goes to each child, places his hands on his or her head and recites a special blessing. The boys are blessed to be like Ephraim and Menasha, the grandsons of Jacob who were destined to be role models for the Jewish people. The girls are blessed to be like Sara, Rivka, Rebecca and Leah, the matriarchs of the Jewish people. Children welcome this blessing each week, and it creates a powerful bond between parent and child.
Blessing over the wine. The Kiddush (meaning sanctification) is recited over a cup of wine, and everyone at the table drinks some. The blessing over the wine is a good example of a basic concept in Judaism to try and raise every action to a higher level. In addition to being a symbol of joy, wine helps melt away the tension of the week and lifts our spirits toward the peacefulness of Shabbat.
Washing the hands. This is not a washing for cleanliness but rather for spiritual purification. Each hand is wet three times, pouring water from the wrist to the fingertips. A bracha is recited as we raise our hands in the air. The blessing simply states that Ha'shem has commanded us to wash our hands, but the images and intentions can carry us much further than that.
Blessing over the bread. After washing our hands, we do not speak until the blessing for the bread is recited. The Shabbat table has two loaves of challah, symbolic of the two loaves of Manna that fell from the sky when we were wandering in the desert.
The Challot are covered. Typically, the blessing over the bread is the first blessing we make when sitting down for a meal. On Shabbat, we make Kiddush first. In order to show that we are not ignoring the proper order, the challot are covered so they do not become “embarrassed”. The lifting of the challah cover often brings oohs and aaahs. The challah is cut and dipped into salt ~ a reminder of the bitterness in our history. As it comes around, everyone takes a piece before passing on to the next person. Then, the meal begins.
The Meal. You can feel the elevation of a Shabbos meal from a weekday meal, and it’s not due to the fact that you waited so long to eat. There are traditional foods that enhance the meal ~ gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, or kugel. Often times, someone will prepare a Dvar torah, a commentary on the weekly Torah portion. Children will boast about what they learned at school. Singing and pounding on the table is also not uncommon!
Benching. After the meal, we take some time to bench. This is a bracha called the Birkat Hamazon ~ frequently sung in tune. The blessing is made up of four different prayers. The first, an expression of gratitude for our food. The second, a prayer of thanks for the land of Israel. Next, a blessing for Jerusalem, and finally a blessing to express our appreciation for Ha'Shem’s goodness.
Despite all the preparation, Shabbat is a wonderful time to slow down and unwind. It’s a mandatory time-out from daily life. It is food for the Neshama. I wasn't always Shomer Shabbat, but I shudder to remember life before Shabbat. It is my favourite day of the week for sure. Let's Listen to Ha'Shem today .... it’s His idea that we rest when He says “Rest”.
SHABBAT SHALOM !!!!!!