Friday evening rituals "on one foot":
The Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat, begins at sunset on Friday, and there are certain rituals which help usher it in. Many of these have been repurposed from Temple rituals.
- How many candles do we light?
- Most people light 2 - one for the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments when it says “Zachor”, “Remember Shabbat”, and one for the Deuteronomy version when it says “Shamor”, “Keep Shabbat”. Others light one candle for each person in their nuclear family.
- When do we light the candles?
- Most people light 18 minutes before sunset. Combined with ending Shabbat 42 minutes after sunset, this gives an extra hour to Shabbat.
- Why do we light the candles?
- The original reason is that Shabbat begins after it gets dark, and in a time before electric lights that led to problems. For instance, if you can’t see where you are going and you spill hot soup on somebody else, that isn’t a very Shabbastick atmosphere.
- On top of the historical origins, other layers of meaning have been added, such as bringing more light into our lives or the world.
- It is also reminiscent of the Menorah that was lit in the Temple, because after the Temples were destroyed the Rabbis transformed some of the rituals into home rituals.
- Wait, isn’t there a prohibition against kindling a fire on Shabbat?
- Yes, that’s why normally we say the blessing and then do the action, but here we light the candles and then say the blessing. It’s the say the blessing that makes it Shabbat.
- On Chanukah, we light the Chanukah candles before the Shabbat candles and after the Havdalah candle to ensure that we’re not kindling fires on Shabbat.
- Who lights the candles?
- While traditionally it was the woman in the household who lit the candles, that is only because the men were hurrying off to shul at the time that candles were to be lit. In truth, everybody is obligated to light candles. The only consideration is making sure that somebody is old enough to not light other things on fire.
- What are the steps to lighting?
- Light the candles, then make 3 circles with your hands to symbolically bring the light in. After that, say the blessing:
- Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat
- Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with your commandments and commanded us to light the Shabbat candle(s)
- Sometimes people will keep their hands over their face a little longer and take a minute to say their own personal prayers to G-d.
- I don’t remember G-d ever telling us to light Shabbat candles. Where is that in the Torah?
- Indeed, that’s not in the Torah. What is in the Torah is Deuteronomy 17:11, which the Rabbis interpreted as G-d saying that we should follow what the Rabbis tell us to do, and the Rabbis tell us that we should light Shabbat candles.
- The phrase “Asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu”, “who has made us holy with your commandments and commanded us” is added to blessings for things that we do, like sitting in a sukkah.
Context: This is a video made by BimBm - it has the singing of the Shabbat candle blessing, along with the Hebrew, English, and transliteration. This is the most common tune for this blessing, and it was written by Abraham Binder (1895-1966).
- Why do we sing “Shalom Aleichem”?
- There’s a story in the Babylonian Talmud about 2 angels that visit each Jewish home on Friday evening. If the home is ready for Shabbat, the Good Angel says, “May it be like this next week”, and the Bad Angel has to say “Amen”. If the home is not ready for Shabbat, then the Bad Angel says “May it be like this next week”, and the Good Angel has to say “Amen.” (Shabbat 119b:3)
- When was it written?
- Around 1600 in Prague.
Context: In this video, Alicia Jo Rabins sings the most common tune for “Shalom Aleichem”. The tune was written by Israel Goldfarb (1879-1967).
Context: This is a reading of The Shabbat Angels, a telling of the Talmudic story done by master storyteller Max(ine) Handelman.
- Some people have the custom that the wife is serenaded with “Eishet Chayil”, which is Proverbs 31:10-31. This text extols the virtues of the model wife who can do everything.
- Other people don’t do this because it sets the woman on a pedestal and creates an impossible standard to reach.
- There are those who will balance “Eishet Chayil” with “Ashrei HaIsh”, talking about the model man (Psalms 112:1-9).
- And then there are those who will replace all of it with verses from Shir HaShirim, the Biblical Song of Songs which is about love.
- Why do we bless our children on Shabbat?
- At the end of Genesis, Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, and says “My descendants will bless their children” (Gen. 48:20)
- Why do we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh?
- Those were Joseph’s sons, and Jacob said that sons will be blessed to be like Ephraim and Menasseh.
- They were the first siblings in the Bible to have a normal relationship — they did not kill, bully, deceive, or enslave each other.
- They were also the first Jews to not grow up in Israel and yet they kept their Jewish identity even while otherwise blending into their society.
- Why do we bless our daughters to be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah?
- They were the first Jewish women and, while not perfect, they were each worthy of emulation in many ways.
- Where does the other part come from?
- That’s the Priestly Blessing through which the priests were told to bless the Jewish people.
- At Mt. Sinai the Israelites are told that they are a “kingdom of priests”, and this may explain why after the Temples were destroyed this blessing became something that all Jewish parents can convey to their children.
- Do you have to use these words?
- The important thing is that children know that they are getting an unconditional blessing, no matter how awful they have been that week.
- You can use the Hebrew, the translation, and/or your own blessing.
- What if your child(ren) isn’t at home anymore?
- The important thing is that your child(ren) know(s) they are getting a blessing from you each week. You can send it via v-mail (vibe mail) after Shabbat has begun, have a call on Friday before Shabbat, convey it via text / e-mail, or anything else.
- How do you do the blessing if you have more than one child?
- Different options. You can do the whole blessing for each child individually, or bless all of your sons / daughters at the same time. Usually there is a laying of hands on the head, assuming your child will let you.
- Is there a tune?
- There is no widespread tune (though there are some ways of singing the Priestly Blessing in the synagogue). However, you can certainly make one up!
Context: This is a video from BimBam recapping the points about the parental blessing.
Context: This is the “Sabbath Prayer” song from the 1971 film version of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. It shows an example of making up your own blessing.
- What are the parts of Kiddush?
- The Friday evening Kiddush comes in 3 parts. The first one is a quote from Genesis 2:1-3, describing the 7th day of Creation. It is preceded by “Yom HaShishi” (“the 6th day”) to make an acronym with G-d’s name, but that isn’t a complete sentence so people quietly say “Vayehi erev vayehi boker” (“There was evening and there was morning”).
- The second part of Kiddush is a one-line blessing over drinking grape juice or wine. We’re not actually blessing the wine, but rather having an attitude of gratitude (a Big Jewish Idea!) toward the creator of the wine.
- The third part is a paragraph about how Shabbat is “holy”, distinct from other days of the week. The first part is not said in the synagogue, because it has already been said in the service. At home, each person / family determines how many parts they will do.
- Why do we say Kiddush?
- The Temple had a wine offering, and the Rabbis moved that to the Shabbat home rituals when the Temple was destroyed.
- Just like we would acknowledge the host and the occasion before a celebratory dinner, so too do we acknowledge G-d for creating the drink and talk about the opportunity to be free and to rest on Shabbat.
- This is because the two versions of the Ten Commandments give 2 different explanations for why we keep Shabbat: G-d rested on the 7th Day of Creation (universalist if), and G-d took us out of slavery and now we get the opportunity to rest (particularistic). Rather than choose, Kiddush talks about both reasons.
- Why are we doing Kiddush at the start of Shabbat?
- Every Hebrew word has a root of usually 3 letters. In this case, the root is k.d.sh., which means “holy”.
- “Holy” has a feeling of “separate”, non-ordinary
- By saying Kiddush at the start of Shabbat, we are sanctifying the time by saying that this time is now separate and holy.
- According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one reason that Judaism survived after the Temple was destroyed is that we replaced holy space with holy time.
- Shabbat is the first thing in the Bible to be considered holy – G-d makes this claim right after finishing Creation.
- Moreover, the Torah tells us in the 4th Commandment to "Remember Shabbat". By making this verbal declaration, we are fulfilling that. Verbal declarations are made over wine or grape juice, like at weddings.
- Why do we use grape juice or wine?
- One reason is because the Rabbis said so in the Babylonian Talmud, probably recalling the wine offering in the Temple (Pesachim 106a:5)
- Another reason is because wine and grape juice make people happy and symbolizes joy (true from real-life observation and also found in Psalms 104:15). This connection with happiness shows up at the Passover Seder when we take out drops from our cup to reduce our happiness due to the suffering of the Egyptians during the 10 Plagues.
- A third reason is that wine / grape juice is found at moments of holiness, such as beginning Shabbat (“Kiddush”), beginning Passover (“Kadesh”), and getting married (“Kiddushin”). Each of these are moments of distinction, and they each have the root k.d.sh. (ק.ד.ש), meaning “holy”. Other words with that root are "Kedushah" and "Kaddish", both prayers which talk about G-d's holiness.
- A fourth reason is that wine improves with age, so it's a symbol of how we want our connection with Shabbat to deepen as we get older.
- If you have a problem with alcoholism, it’s a matter of pikuach nefesh, saving a life, to not say Kiddush over wine. In this situation, you are commanded to use grape juice.
- Do you have to use a fancy Kiddush cup?
- No, anything that holds liquid will work (including hotel cups if you are on the road). The custom of using a fancy cup comes from the idea of “hiddur mitzvah”, “beautifying the commandment”.
- Do we stand or sit for Kiddush?
- Depends who you ask. Some people stand for Kiddush and for drinking, some people sit for Kiddush and for drinking, and some people stand for Kiddush and sit for drinking. All the customs are valid. When in doubt, follow minhag hamakom, the custom of the place.
- Why is Kiddush also said in Friday evening services?
- Kiddush is said also in synagogue because in the early Talmudic times (200’s), traveling strangers would have their Shabbat dinner in the synagogue. They started their meals with Kiddush also, and eventually it just got put into the service.
- Are there any theological statements being made through Kiddush?
- Yes. By saying that G-d is the creator of the fruit of the vine, we are acknowledging that growing things involves factors outside of our control. Unlike paganism, we are saying that all compliments (and complaints) about everything get addressed to G-d, not to the god of this or the god of that.
- Also, by saying that G-d took us out of slavery, we are acknowledging that G-d acts in history, through the actions of people (in this case, Moses).
- Furthermore, by saying that G-d created the world, we are acknowledging that the world is G-d's and we are simply using it for a few decades. Like anything else that we borrow, it is our responsibility to take care of it.
- What’s with the “Savri” and “L’chaim” that people sometimes say before they start the Blessing over the Wine?
- “Savri” means “with your permission”. It’s asking permission from the group to be the one who says Kiddush on behalf of everybody else. It’s also asking permission to drink in front of everybody, since it’s not polite to eat/drink in front of others when they don’t have as much if any of what you have. This is less likely to be an issue if everybody is saying it together.
- Some people respond to “Savri” with “L’chayim!”, “To Life!”. Lots of reasons are given, none of which are necessarily true. For instance, sometimes wine was poisoned, so everybody is assuring the leader that this cup is only for life. Another reason that was made up was that the fruit that Adam ate was perhaps actually a grape, and if so then it’s the grape that brought death and misery into the world, so we are assuring the leader that this cup of grape liquid is for purposes of life and not for death. A third reason, which I just made up, is that it reminds us not to drink more than 1 drink per hour so that we don't risk blood alcohol poisoning.
- What specific thoughts can I get from specific phrases in the Kiddush?
- From “asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav”, “Who made us holy with G-d’s commandments”, we see that the purpose of Shabbat is to make our lives holier.
- From “techila l’mikra-ey kodesh”, “first among our holy days”, this refers to Leviticus 23 where Shabbat is listed first before the other holidays. One could argue that it is the most important.
- From “Ki vanu vacharta”, “Because You chose us”, we learn that G-d didn’t choose us to be better than everybody else, but merely to have extra responsibilites for being G-d’s role models in the world.
- From “B’ahava uvratzon”, “with love and gladness”, we learn that G-d gave us the Shabbat “lovingly and gladly”. It’s not supposed to be a burden, but a gift, a chance to press the pause button every 7 days. It’s like a paid vacation day, insofar as it’s a chance to rest and unwind from the stresses of the week before.
Context: This is the Friday evening Kiddush, done in “Prayer-eoke” form by Rabbi Ahuva Zaches. This tune, which is the most common, was composed by Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894), a German-Jewish composer of many tunes (like “Tzadik Katamar”).
Context: This is the Kiddush tune written by Hazzan Abba Josef Weisgal, sung in duet by Cantor Neil Schwartz and David Schwartz. Weisgal (1885-1981) was the teacher of Hazzan Joseph Levin, who taught many of today’s cantors at the Cantorial Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) (including Cantor Schwartz).
- Why do we wash our hands?
- The priests washed their hands before offering sacrifices (Exodus 30:17-20), and since the table replaced the alter after the Temple’s destruction therefore we wash our hands.
- Why don’t we talk after washing?
- We want to maintain our holy state of mind after saying the blessing, and so we don’t talk until we say the Motzi blessing over the challah (unless asking for challah-related things like the salt). Humming and singing wordless tunes (niggunim) is permitted — some have the custom of using the tune for Simon and Garfunkel’s song “The Sound of Silence”.
- Think of this as a mindfulness exercise, maintaining a more spiritual state of mind
- What’s with the funny cup?
- Some people use a two-handled cup to make it easier to pour. This way your hands don’t touch partway through the process, causing the “not clean” hand to get the “clean” hand dirty again.
- Any cup will do the trick, and if you have no cup, just turn the water on and off over each hand.
- How do you wash your hands?
- Use the right hand to pour over the left hand, front and back, 2-3 times, and then repeat the process with the other hand.
- Then say the blessing and dry your hands.
- After that, Shhhh!
Context: This video, explaining the rituals of handwashing, was done by Ali Dunn and Rabbi Alex Freedman of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, in the Chicagoland area.
- Why do we say Motzi?
- Motzi replaces the showbread offering in the Temple. (Exodus 25:30)
- Do you have to use challah?
- No, any bread (or thing being used as bread, like bagels) will do, preferably unbroken.
- On the Shabbat of Passover, we use matzah.
- Why do some people have 2 loafs?
- When the manna fell in the desert, there was a double portion on Friday so that people wouldn’t have to gather it on Shabbat (Exodus 16:4-5). The two challah loaves are a reminder of that.
- There were two loaves in the Temple.
- Why do we cover the challah until we bless it?
- The manna was covered by dew (Exodus 16:13-14) so we cover the challah.
- Another explanation is that we don’t want the challah to be embarrassed while we bless the grape juice first. It seems that the challah is like a parrot - if it’s covered, it’s asleep, or something like that. Our concern for the well-being of the challah doesn’t stop us from tearing it apart or cutting it, though. In all seriousness, the idea here is that if we are concerned about the emotional well-being of our food, all the more so should we be concerned about the emotional well-being of other people.
- Why do we put salt on the challah?
- Just like the sacrifices were salted (Leviticus 2:13), so too do we salt our challah.
- Salt lasts forever, and we want our relationship with Judaism to last forever. This is reminiscent of what the Torah describes as our “covenant of salt” with G-d (Numbers 18:19)
- The first year after a couple is married, and on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is customary to put honey on the challah instead of salt as a symbol of sweetness.
- Do we say “Amen” at the end of the Motzi blessing?
- Not if you sang the whole blessing. “Amen” literally means something similar to “I believe”, but it is used to mean “I agree”, and we don’t say “Amen” to our own blessing. That’s like saying “I think the sky is blue today and I agree with myself.”
- What’s the difference between “HaMotzi” and the “Motzi”?
- Nothing. The blessing is called “HaMotzi” because that’s the word in the blessing, but since “HaMotzi” means “The Motzi” if you say “We’re going to say the HaMotzi” you’ve actually said, “We’re going to say the the Motzi”.
- What ideas can I take away from the Motzi?
- Humans are partners with G-d in Creation. We thank G-d for bringing forth bread from the earth, but G-d only helps with bringing up wheat from the earth. We have to finish the job of turning it into bread.
- Nothing we make comes into being without the help of G-d, and whatever we make is a continuation of G-d’s work of Creation. We are partners with G-d.
- Being partners with G-d is true of making the wheat into bread, and it’s also true of actions to make the world a better place (such as when we say in Birkat HaMazon that G-d feeds everybody, yet we have to distribute the food that G-d makes so everybody has enough food).
- As Eleanor Powell said, “Your talents are G-d’s gift to you. What you do with them are your gifts to G-d”.
- Why should one say a blessing at all before eating?
- Saying a blessing helps to develop an “attitude of gratitude”
- It elevates the act of eating from just being something that we do because we are biologically animals into something that we do because it is holy and helps us connect with G-d.
- What is special about the Motzi blessing in particular?
- The Motzi blessing covers all food, so that if you say this blessing then even though it technically is only for “things with flour used as bread”, it covers your entire meal.
- The Rabbis couldn’t conceive of a meal without bread, so you would say this blessing over the entire meal.
- Theoretically, the blessing for things from the ground and things from “tree-like structures” would cover the Motzi and the blessing over the wine, but bread and wine are so special that they get their own blessings.
Context: This is a video showing how to sing the Motzi, made by synagogue Ahavas Chesed in Mobile, AL.
With appreciation to: Ariela Rosenberg, Cantor Neil Schwartz, Josh Franklin, Stef Jasnow, and My People's Prayerbook
Appendix: Eishet Chayil and Ashrei HaIsh