Shabbat Liturgy

Shabbat's unique liturgy

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Taken together, these three topics encapsulate the essential Jewish understanding of all existence:  the beginning (creation), the middle (revelation), and the end (redemption)--two of them having already arrived and one yet to come.

On Shabbat, the subject of creation is emphasized in the Friday-evening Amidah. One of the paragraphs of the central kedushat ha-yom blessing states (quoting from the Torah), "The heavens and the earth and all they contain were completed.  On the seventh day God finished the work [of creation] which God had been doing..." (Genesis 2:1-2). 

On Shabbat morning, the subject of revelation is brought to the foreground in the parallel portion of the Shaharit Amidah, which states, "Moses rejoiced at the gift of his destiny when You [O God] declared him a faithful servant... Two tablets of stone did he bring down, inscribed with Shabbat observance…."

Finally, the topic of redemption is subtly alluded to in the same spot during the final Amidah of the day, in the Minhah service, which states, "A day of rest and sanctity You [O God] have given your people...a perfect rest in which you delight." While this passage also refers to the Shabbat day itself, it mentions too a day of "perfect rest," which, according to the Jewish tradition, will only be enjoyed in the days of the Messiah.

Shabbat Services Are Longer

The Shabbat worship service is longer than the weekday service.  On weekdays, we do not have the time to spend in extended prayer.  Weekday prayer services include not much more than the bare essentials of what is considered obligatory for every Jew to recite. However, because Shabbat is a day of rest and relaxation, a day set aside for spiritual enjoyment and contemplation, the liturgy of that day is significantly expanded to enable us to more fully appreciate its unique holiness.

On a weekday, the preliminary Pesukei D'Zimra service offers a relatively short selection of Psalms and biblical passages, just enough to put us in a reverent mood for the full Shaharit (morning) service. On Shabbat this section is significantly expanded. Ten additional celebratory psalms are added, reaching a crescendo with Psalm 92, "Song for the Sabbath day," the only psalm out of 150 to praise God for the gift of the Shabbat.

On a weekday, we move quickly from Pesukei D'Zimra to the Barekhu, the beginning of the Shaharit service.  On Shabbat, a number of extra introductory piyyutim (liturgical poems) are included, which creatively express the inadequacy of human beings to truly praise God. One passage states,

"Could song fill our mouth as water fills the sea and joy flood our tongue like countless waves,  could our lips utter praise limitless as the sky... never could we fully state our gratitude for one ten-thousandth of the lasting love which is Your precious blessing, dearest God, granted to our ancestors and us." 

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.