The laws of remembering Shabbos.
1. At mount Sinai our nation heard two commandments regarding Shabbos in a prophetic vision: to remember Shabbos and to keep it. Remembering Shabbos implies all the positive aspects of the day – making it special and different. Keeping Shabbos implies making sure not to desecrate it by performing any forbidden work. Let us first discuss the laws of the positive aspects of Shabbos.
2. The Shabbos is the most important holiday in our calendar, in many ways it is even a greater holiday than Yom Kippur. For this reason, seven people are called up to the Torah on Shabbos, six – on Yom Kippur and five on other holidays. Respecting Shabbos and being happy on this day is one of the most exalted ways to serve the Creator, Who wants us to enjoy this day. Moreover, for proper observance of Shabbos we are promised a great reward. Imagine that during a job interview, the employer proposed that all we need to do is eat, sleep, sing songs and enjoy ourselves and for all this we will be getting an excellent salary. I don’t think we would believe the seriousness of the offer. However, it is under these conditions that the Creator “hires” us: enjoy the Shabbos the best you can and I will reward you greatly.
3. Everything on Shabbos is different. Eating, walking, clothes, manner of speech, even the intimate relations between the spouses on Shabbos have nothing to do with weekday mundane ones. All these actions on Shabbos are elevated and become means in fulfilling the mitzvos. All of the Shabbos meals are separated from the weekday ones. We make Kiddush on wine in the beginning of Shabbos and it is forbidden to eat anything until Kiddush is made. After the end of Shabbos we make Havdallah. Before Havdallah, we are not allowed to eat or to do any work. On Shabbos itself we eat three festive meals. They are not called breakfast, dinner and supper, rather their very names are special: the first, second and third Shabbos meals. They correspond to the three forefathers – Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov who also instituted the three prayers – Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv. After Shabbos we eat an additional meal – Melave Malka, seeing off the queen. It corresponds to an additional Shabbos prayer – Musaf. We will now discuss everything in greater detail.
4. Before Shabbos we take a shower or at least wash our hands and face. If the hair grew too long we try to get a haircut before Shabbos. Similarly, it’s a mitzvah to cut the nails on Friday. Some men have a custom to go to the Mikvah before every Shabbos. On Shabbos we wear beautiful holiday clothes. It is a mitzvah to prepare beautiful Shabbos candles; it is especially praiseworthy to light olive oil for Shabbos. In many families, the custom is for the man to prepare the candles and for the woman to light them. This way, the man also participates in the fulfillment of this wonderful commandment. Obviously, when the woman is absent or the man lives alone, he lights the candles himself. It is sufficient to light two Shabbos candles but many women light more – some light seven, ten or twelve. If one can’t get even two candles, she should try to at least light one. The time of lighting the candles is somewhere between 20 and 15 minutes before sundown. If this time passed, the candles can still be lit until sundown. However, since most watches are not perfectly accurate one should not light the candles in the last few minutes before sundown. Certainly, if the candles were not lit before sundown, they cannot be lit later. The Shabbos is then spent without the candles and from the next Shabbos on, the custom is to light another candle in addition to the number one was accustomed to.
5. Even though Shabbos starts with sundown, it is a mitzvah to add to this day in the beginning and at the end. In the summer in many communities people pray Maariv – the evening prayer before sundown. In such a case, the woman should try to light the candles and accept Shabbos on herself before her husband receives Shabbos in the synagogue.
6. Kiddush – literally “sanctification” is pronounced over wine or grape juice before the meals on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Usually, when the men come home after evening prayers, they find the table set and everything is ready for Kiddush. If there are no men in the household, the woman makes Kiddush. The Shabbos Kiddush consists of two blessings: the first is the usual brocha over the wine, the second is the actual Kiddush where we mention that Shabbos was separated from weekdays and we thank the Creator for giving us this day. Everybody present has to listen carefully and keep in mind to fulfill their obligation of Kiddush, while the one pronouncing the blessings has to keep in mind that with this Kiddush he lets others fulfill their obligations as well. The one making Kiddush has to drink the cup of wine or grape juice or at least its majority. It is preferable that everyone present also tastes at least a little bit. After this, everybody washes their hands for bread. One should not interrupt between Kiddush and washing. We start every Shabbos meal by making a blessing over two unbroken breads – challas. The head of the household pronounces the brocha keeping in mind to include everybody and then cuts the challah, dips the pieces in salt, eats a piece and distributes the rest to others. Nobody talks until they swallowed a piece of challah. Some people hold one challah on top of the other and cut the bottom challah during the evening meal and the top challah during all other meals.
7. Now is the time for the holiday meal. It is interesting to note that in today’s technologically advanced world people feel further apart from each other than ever before. The family members living under one roof have separate interests with almost nothing in common. In many cases each one has his own computer with internet access, video games, news and movies of his choice. On the other hand, in an observant Jewish family the traditional values are still intact. The family gathered around the Shabbos table has many common issues to discuss. The children’s learning in school, the weekly Torah reading, the various stories about righteous people – all these can be topics of interesting and exciting conversations. The children feel their importance and the genuine interest of their parents makes their relationship very close. Many people have Shabbos guests who make the discussions at the table even more interesting – the long conversations often continue for hours. Last but not least – the food at Shabbos meals is very desirable. First, gefilte fish is served, then soup, then the main course and at last the dessert.
8. When the meal is finished, the blessings after eating are recited. There is a special addition (Retze) to the third brocho – we mention the Shabbos day there. Now the family members go to sleep. Getting a good Shabbos rest is also a mitzvah. When the wife is not Nidah, it’s a mitzvah for the couple to have relations. According to the teachings of Kabbalah, if a woman conceives on Shabbos night, very special children will be born.
9. In the morning usually the men go to the synagogue. If a woman does not have small children she often goes to the synagogue as well. Certainly, if she has small children, she is absolved from going to the synagogue since she is busy with a much more important mitzvah – taking care of them.
10. Before the morning prayers one is allowed to drink coffee or tea but a healthy person should not eat anything. A sick individual who needs to eat in the morning should at least recite the morning blessings before eating. Those women who normally don’t pronounce the formal prayers but only say the morning brochos, should not even drink without making a Kiddush on wine or grape juice. If this is difficult, she can make Kiddush on a different juice or milk and eat a piece of cake greater than the size of an average egg.
11. After the morning prayers are finished, one can not even drink water until Kiddush is made. It consists of only one blessing on the wine or grape juice. It is preferable to eat the morning meal immediately but many people eat some cake only while the second Shabbos meal is eaten later. In any event one should not delay that meal till after midday.
12. Those who are tired can take a nap in the afternoon but one should not say: “Let me get some sleep now so I will be able to do my work after Shabbos”. One should also not forget that Shabbos is given not only for physical pleasures but for spiritual as well. In many synagogues lessons of Torah take place before the afternoon prayer – Mincha. In larger Jewish communities many different classes are conducted so one can choose the Torah topic that appeals to him the most. Lessons for women are usually also available.
13. After Mincha, the third meal is held. One should try to eat a piece of bread bigger than an average egg, but if this is too difficult, he should eat cake or at least fruits. Kiddush is not made but one should drink some wine or grape juice during the meal. Note, that the blessing over the bread does not cover the wine, and therefore we have to make a brocha before we drink it.
14. The Shabbos ends when three small stars can be seen on the evening sky. This time can depend on the season and location – latitude and longitude of the city. The general custom of most Jews is to wait at least 72 minutes after sundown. In any case, it is a mitzvah to add to Shabbos and not to end it at the earliest possible time. After Shabbos is over we pray Maariv – the evening prayers. One should not forget to make a special addition – “Ato Chonantanu,” where we mention that Shabbos was separated from weekdays. If one forgot to say “Ato Chonantanu,” he should say after his prayers “Boruch Hamavdil Bein Kodesh Lechol” and then doing work becomes permitted. One is forbidden to eat or drink until Havdallah is made. At home, the father makes Havdallah for the whole family. Havdallah includes four blessings corresponding to four senses – sight, hearing, smell and taste to separate all our feelings on weekday from the Shabbos ones. We make a blessing on the wine (taste), on nicely smelling substances (smell), on the fire (sight) and the main blessing to distinguish Shabbos from weekdays (hearing). Everybody has to hear this blessing otherwise the obligation of Havdallah is not fulfilled.
15. It is a special mitzvah to eat another meal – Melave Malka, seeing off the Shabbos queen. It is preferable to eat bread, but if this is too difficult one can eat some cake or at least fruits.
16. Even during the week we have to remember Shabbos. Every morning in our prayers we mention which day after Shabbos this is. Note that the Jewish days of the week don’t have independent names – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc. They are counted only as days after Shabbos “Yom Rishon” – first day, etc. If we notice rare fruits being sold during the week, we buy them for Shabbos. Many men buy flowers for their wives on Friday so the Shabbos table is even more beautiful. It is customary to do laundry on Thursday so that fresh clothing is available for Shabbos. Let us merit to keep and respect Shabbos fittingly.