There is a custom in the Jewish world that when someone completes a section of Talmud study, a celebration called a siyum, is held.
In the secular world, if an insurance salesman surpasses the million-dollar mark, a party of honor is also held.
Why this need to have parties? Aren't the accomplishments of study, material wealth, and the like, suitable pleasures in themselves?
It seems not, for this party celebrates the reality of what has been accomplished and inspires one to accomplish again.
Melaveh Malkah means "Escorting the Queen," the Shabbat Queen. She entered Friday night in all her glory, and now we usher her out in similar regal fashion.
We have a party.
I suppose you can call it the Shabbat "Awards Banquet," for its existence says that, hey, we've accomplished something here. It was incredible.
And we want to do it again.
1. Prepare the Shabbat table as it was when Shabbat came in, with a nice tablecloth and fine dishes.
2. Light new Shabbat candles. (There is a custom to light them at the end of the Havdalah ceremony.)
3. Many have a Shabbat-like meal, albeit with leftovers, though it is praiseworthy to have a special dish for this meal, too.
4. Music is played, songs are sung, and the soul is comforted by this joyful way of saying goodbye to Shabbat.
In the winter, when Shabbat ends early, there's time to really do something social Saturday night, so a group of us started a "Melaveh Malkah Club." There are about 12 couples involved, and we pair up to put on a Melaveh Malkah every three weeks. So you have two couples sharing the responsibility of picking a theme (Italian, Israeli, and so forth) and assigning the food.
Every couple brings a homemade dish in keeping with the theme. For example, if it's Italian, then people can make pizza, spaghetti sauces, garlic bread and the like. With everyone pitching in, it's easy, delicious, and a lot of fun.
The family hosting it in their home that week is responsible for a short Devar Torah (a "word" of Torah), and providing the paper goods (plates, cups).
It's something we all look forward to, and it makes the long winters in Canada a lot more fun!
* * *
My husband is a teacher and works most evenings during the week. With caring for the kids and our work, it's hard to find time to just be together. That's why we made Saturday night our "date" night.
We have a babysitter booked every Saturday night who watches the kids and does my Shabbat dishes! We get dressed up and go out for dessert and coffee at a nice restaurant and just ... talk. I love it.
* * *
My children have taken it upon themselves to make Melaveh Malkah an integral part of our Shabbat experience. That means every Saturday night in the winter we all go ice-skating, pick up a pizza and a tub of ice cream, go home and party. It's really a terrific night -- bedtimes are unofficially suspended (except for the littlest ones), while we all indulge in good family fun.
It's a real treat, even for us. Because Shabbat is so home-based, it's nice to get out afterwards and do something a little different and physical.
* * *
I learned that even though our souls love Shabbat, our bodies sometimes feel as if they did without. So Melaveh Malkah is to make up to the body any feeling of loss it may have experienced over the past 24 hours.
One of my teachers said that a hot shower could be someone's Melaveh Malkah, if that's what they missed, or a hot snack.
Mine is cheese melts. I take crackers and melt cheese on them in the toaster oven ... yummmmm!
* * *
When I was first keeping Shabbat, I couldn't wait for it to be over so I could run out on Saturday night with my friends. I used to count the minutes.
But now I don't have that same desire to go out and party. For me, it's just a leisurely cleanup and maybe a pizza. I don't feel as if I'm missing out, because now I see that I have so much more.
* * *
The secret's out -- we just got rid of our TV. What does that have to do with Melaveh Malkah? Well, it used to be that Saturday night was movie or TV night, but my wife and I made a decision to chuck the TV because it really was a negative influence on our kids. So instead of a passive Melaveh Malkah in front of the tube, my wife and I talk for two hours, just the two of us! It is great, and we both know it is because of the "no television" decision.
Adapted from "Friday Night and Beyond" by Lori Palatnik (Jason Aronson Pub.)