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The importance of Shabbat

Part Four: Observing Shabbat
By Shlomo Phillips © December 29, 2010 (last updated August 11, 2014)

Welcoming Shabbat

This page is intended as a basic overview of how to welcome Shabbat at home. Shabbat services vary greatly from family to family and in time you will establish your own meaningful traditions. By seeing how others welcome Shabbat and allowing their observances to inspire yours you will discover and/or increase the bliss of honoring the day. Remember, meaningful services always arise from the heart so experiment and be open within the confines established by rabbinic rulings.

Previously we discussed preparations for welcoming Shabbat. Your table should be now set and everything should be ready. Now it's eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday evening and you are ready to welcome Shabbat. There are three main elements to Shabbat:

Kedushah or Holiness
Menuchah or Rest
Oneg or Sweetness and Pleasure.
As you enter the Day keep these in mind. They are your guideposts to a meaningful experience. Your consciousness should be elevated, you should be relaxed and at peace both within and without, and you should be seeking and experiencing joy.

Shabbat Shalom Lecha Dodi


It is traditional to begin Shabbat with an act of charity. Many people keep a tzedakah box for this purpose. Drop in something for charity. You can allow this amount to grow with time and make your donation annually or however you prefer. Donating to charity is very important to Jews. This money can be used for any act of charity: feeding the poor, supporting a charitable clinic, a homeless shelter, distributing Rabeinu's books, etc. it should in addition to shul memberships etc.

The Candles or Oil Lamps

Your Shabbat candles or oil lamps may be located on your table or somewhere else nearby as preferred. Go there now for the candle lighting. Some families also light additional candles for each family member etc. This is optional.

Usually the Shabbat candles (or oil lamps) are lit by the senior woman in the house. Tradition places this blessing first on women. A common reason given for this is that the Shekhinah of HaShem (the 'feminine' Presence of G-d) abides more fully with women and their homes. Since Shabbat is "the Queen of Heaven" she is traditionally invited to the Shabbat table by a woman. It is always a great honor to be invited to light the candles and this blessing is to be accepted with humility and thanksgiving. If no godly woman is available it is perfectly acceptable for the candles to be lit by a man. The important thing is that they are lit (approximately 18 minutes prior to sunset as discussed). It is traditional for Jews to light two candles for Shabbat. Again, these are lit before the blessing is recited to honor the Halakha forbiding lighting a fire once Shabbat begins (this is the case whether or not one intends to honor this halachic restriction).

Once the candles are lit, "draw" your hands slowly toward you in a circular fashion over/through the flames. This is done three times, drawing the light and its warmth towards you. Momentarily cover your eyes with the first two drawings. Then as your hands reach your face the third time, cover your eyes and slightly bow. If you know the prayer by heart say it with your eyes covered. If not, pause a moment longer and then read the prayer from the siddur.

Have a cup of water nearby and place the still burning match into it so that it is safely extinguished. Allow the candles to burn themselves out naturally.

There are various ways to think about the significance of this ancient tradition. Judaism is quite flexible and the symbolism speaks to each of us somewhat differently. Essentially however the two candles represent the twin Shabbat commandments for zakhor (remembrance) and shamor (observance) of the Seventh Day.

The following video demonstrates how to properly light the candles:

Once the candles are lit, recite the following blessing (preferably in Hebrew). The prayer can be repeated in English afterward if desired:

Candle Lighting Prayer:

Transliteration: Translation:

The Kiddush

Now its time for the Kiddush or Sanctification. Lighting the candles ushers in Shabbat and the Kiddush formally sanctifies it. On the Shabbat table should be a bottle of kosher wine (or juice if preferred) and a kiddush cup. It is nice to have an ornate or unique cup for this but its not necessary.

Someone, traditionally the lead man of the family, lifts up the full kiddush cup of wine and recites the following blessing. First a nice video for the proper pronunciation, then the text:

Ba-ruch a-tah, A-do-nai,
E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam,
bo-rei p'ri ha-ga-fen. (Amen)

Ba-ruch a-tah, A-do-nai,
E-lo-hei-nu, me-lech ha-o-lam,
a-sher ki-d'sha-nu
b'mits-vo-tav v'ra-tsa va-nu,
v'sha-bat kawd'sho
b'a-ha-va uv'ra-tson
zi-ka-ron l'ma-a-sei v'rei-shit.
t'chi-la l'mik-ra-ei ko-desh,
ze-cher li-tsi-at Mits-ra-yim.
Ki va-nu va-char-ta
v'o-ta-nu ki-dash-ta
mi-kawl ha-a-mim,
v'Sha-bat kawd-sh'cha
b'a-ha-va u-v'ra-tson
Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai,
m'ka-deish ha-Sha-bat. (Amen)

L'Chaim! ("To life!" is reciting by everyone present.)

Netilat Yadayim

Because the Shabbat table is our family alter we next perform the hand washing ritual known as Netilat Yadayim. This ancient rite is inspired by the Sacred Temple rituals. A special two-handled cup can be purchased or made (you can see a couple of examples here or any cup can be used if you don't have one. For the rite to be properly observed the water need to come from a cup rather than a running tap. To sanctify the rite it is best to have a cup for this use alone. Here's a cute Chabad video on how to perform the rite:

Pour water from the cup over your right hand, then over your left, repeating until both hands have been wetted three times. Note that some minhagim (i.e. traditions) says to do this twice rather than thrice. Some people do one hand three times, then the other one three times. It varies but the method described is the most common. In any case, with still wet hands, recite the following before drying with a clean cloth:

Barukh ata Adonai
Eloheinu melekh ha-olam,
Asher Kiddeshanu bemitzvotav
Vetzivanu al netilat yadayim.
Those who observe the hand washing Halakha will perform Netilat Yadayim before eating any bread products. It is also appropriate to perform this rite before prayer or doing other specifically spiritual acts (unless specifically noted not to as when making challah). For more on this see my study here

After performing Netilat Yadayim on Friday evening do not speak until after taking a bite of challah. This emphasizes the purpose of the rite and honors the tradition. With lips and hands we partake of the challah.


The two loaves of challah are now lifted up (literally or symbolically) and the HaMotzi blessing is recited. We discussed the making of challah previously.

Ba-rooch ah-ta Adonai, Eh-lo-hay-noo meh-lehch
ha-oh-lahm, ha-mo-tzee leh-chehm meen ha-ah-retz.

In English:

Blessed are You O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe,
Who brings forth bread from the Earth.

The person who recites the HaMotzi blessing tears or cuts off a small piece of challah, dips it in salt, and eats. He/she now does the same, offering everyone a piece of challah. Once everyone has eaten a small piece they may speak as usual. Our family enjoys a rousing sing along Shabbat Shalom at this point:

Various selections of sacred texts may now be read or the Shabbat meal may commence.

A nice ending prayer for the meal is the Aaronic Benediction:

Y'va-reh-ch'cha Adonai v'yeesh-m'reh-cha,
Ya-air Adonai pa-nahv ay-leh-cha vee-choo-neh-ka,
Yee-sa Adonai pa-nahv ay-leh-cha v'ya-same l'cha Shalom.

In English

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

Now its time for Oneg Shabbat, the sharing of the joy of the sweet Shabbat. Its a time for friendship, deserts and relaxing. Reading the weekly Parsha or Torah portion is a nice family activity for Friday evening as well.

Remember, your Shabbat observances can and should be tailored around your family or group. HaShem is present with us during Shabbat. He shares in our joy and sincerity. This is a time for joy! As Rebbe Nachman teaches:

Be very careful to feel only joy on Shabbat. There is nothing to compare with the greatness and holiness of Shabbat. The key to honoring the Shabbat is joy. Don't show even a hint of depression or anxiety on Shabbat.
Treat yourself to all kinds of delights in the food you eat, what you drink, your clothes... whatever you can afford. The food of Shabbat is completely holy. It is purely spiritual and filled with godliness. It rises to a totally different place from that of the food of the six working days.
Make an effort to feel the joy of Shabbat and you will find true happiness -- Rebbe Nachman, Likutey Moharan II, 17.
Have a joyous and restful sleep! In the morning awaken refreshed. Sleep in, have a late breakfast, visit the synagogue, spend time with your family and friends. Its a day of rest and joy. And traditionally its a day of three wonderful meals! So bon appetit!

Havdalah: Ending Shabbat

About forty minutes after nightfall on Saturday it is traditional for the family to gather together to bid farewell to Shabbat. There are various traditional rites that can be performed. Some Jews have grand traditions for this while others say a simple farewell to Shabbat in more quiet ways. Traditionally Havdalah (literally "separation")consists of more wine, smelling strong spices and lighting a special Havdalah candle (made of two or more wicks). There are various traditional prayers and songs that can be shared as well. For instance:

I hope this study has been a blessing to you. May Shabbat become ever sweeter to you and yours as time goes on.

Shabbat Shalom

"The Sabbath Song"

Be the Blessing you were created to be
Don't let the perfect defeat the good