Friday Night at Home

The traditional Shabbat evening rituals are best shared with family and friends.

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Woman of Valor ("Eshet Chayil")

The husband sings to his wife the verses from Proverbs 31:10-31, extolling her virtues and declaring his love and appreciation. Although this has fallen into some disuse and has come under considerable attack content-wise, it can be a quite significant and beautiful ritual.

Kiddush--Sanctification

This is recited over a full (brimming) large cup of wine. The wine symbolizes joy and the full cup symbolizes overflowing joy and bounty. On Shabbat there should be nothing missing from total physical and spiritual completion. Kiddush may be recited and drunk while (a) standing, (b) sitting, or (c) standing while reciting and sitting while drinking. There are a number of variations for holding the cup. Of particular note: place the cup in the palm of the right hand with the five fingers curled upward holding it. This symbolizes the five-petaled rose, the symbol of perfection, of longing for God (the petals reach upward), of the people of Israel.

The text of the kiddush can be found in the siddur. The first half is an account of the completion of creation on the seventh day (Genesis 1:31-2:1-3). The introductory phrase va-y'hi erev va-y'hi voker--"and there was evening and there was morning"--is said in a low tone. This allows the emphasis to fall on the first four words of kiddush: "?yom ha-shishi. Va-y'khulu ha-shamayim--"the sixth day. The heaven and the earth were finished"--the first letters of which form the Tetragrammaton, the holy four-letter Name of God.

After this we recite the blessing over the wine.

The second half of the kiddush recalls both the creation and the exodus from Egypt, the paradigm for all physical and spiritual redemptions and rebirths, and concludes with the blessing on the sanctification of the Shabbat. If wine is not available, the kiddush can be recited over the twin hallot [braided breads]. Simply substitute the blessing over the bread for the one over the wine.

Challah

Following the kiddush, the hands should be washed in the ritually prescribed manner. When everyone is reseated, the hallah cover is removed from the hallot [two loaves of braided bread, in memory of the double portion of manna received by the Israelites in the wilderness], and ha-Motsi--the blessing over the bread--is recited. The hallah is then cut or broken, and distributed to each person.

The First Meal--Zemirot

It is a mitzvah to eat three meals on Shabbat: one on Friday night, one on Saturday after the morning service, and one late Saturday afternoon before Shabbat ends. The first meal is a large one, with many courses. Before partaking of each course, some people say, "Likh'vod ha-Shabbat"--for the honor of Shabbat--as a kavvanah, intention, to the act of eating. During and after the meal, traditional songs--zemirot--are sung. Some of these may be found in the siddur. These zemirot for Friday night are quite beautiful, and while reflecting the mood and feeling of Shabbat, also add an important element to the setting. Sing a lot. Sing other songs (Hebrew, Yiddish, English) as well, if they fit in and contribute to the Shabbat mood. The zemirot on Friday night are generally in 3/4 time--the grand waltz. Following the meal is the Birkat ha-Mazon (Grace after Meals) with the special additions for Shabbat.

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

Sharon M. Strassfeld is co-author of the Jewish Catalog series.

Richard Siegel

Richard Siegel is the Interim Director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at HUC-JIR. He worked for 28 years at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the last 16 as Executive Director.