The key to a meaningful Shabbat experience is that it shouldn't feel just like "any other day." Rather, we want to create a special mood. This means getting dressed up in our nicest (or favorite) clothes, buying or preparing our favorite foods, and setting aside uninterrupted time to reflect and appreciate what our lives are really all about.
How do we break loose from the whirling weekday pattern and get into a "Shabbat-state-of-mind"? The key is to remove outside distractions. If you're just beginning, try going through all of Friday night with no canned entertainment: no TV, no radio, no movies. If you're really brave, no telephone either! This helps pulls us out of the regular weekday cycle, and propel us into "The Shabbat Dimension."
Here are the basic steps of turning Friday night into Shabbos. Click on the links for more detailed "how-to" articles.
1) Candle Lighting. The image of a Jewish woman kindling her Sabbath candles is a timeless symbol of Judaism. Eighteen minutes before sunset, we light the candles, inviting peace and harmony into the home, infusing the atmosphere with physical and spiritual light.
Candle lighting brings peace, warmth and a special Shabbat glow into the home. Light candles before sunset -- check the newspaper for the time, or ask your local synagogue to provide a yearly listing. You can pick up a box of white Shabbat candles at any supermarket. You only need to light one, though the custom is to light two.
2) Evening Services. The melodies of the prayers for Kabbalah Sabbath welcome the Sabbath with deep reverence and joy. Dancing often breaks out as we embrace the spirit of closeness with our fellow Jews in a day of rest, sanctity, good food, and song.
3) Shalom Aleichem. Once gathered at the beautiful Sabbath table, we sing "Shalom Aleichem." This song greets the angels that escort a person home from synagogue, as we seek their "blessing" for a good Sabbath.
4) Eishet Chayil. There are many levels of meaning to this beautiful song that praises the Jewish woman who is accomplished and cares for her family, is kind to the poor and needy, and is God-fearing. Shabbat is also compared to a bride or queen, so the song is also in praise of Shabbat.
5) Blessing the Children. Right before Kiddush, many parents bless each of their children to walk in health and strength on the path of our holy ancestors.
6) Kiddush. Everyone stands as the leader cradles a full cup of wine or grape juice, to sanctify the Sabbath by remembering that "in six days, God created the heaven and the earth -- and on Shabbat He rested."
Our week is filled with work and creation, but Shabbat is the day of rest and reflection. "Kiddush" literally means to make a distinction, to elevate something physical and make it spiritual. By reciting Kiddush, we elevate not only the cup of wine, but the very day of Shabbat itself.
7) Hand washing. We wash our hands in order to purify ourselves before we break bread. First remove all rings as the water must cover your hands completely, and then say the blessing.
8) Ha-Motzi. Two challahs are placed on plate or board, covered with a decorative cloth, and set on the table. The two loaves commemorate the double portion of manna which fell from the heavens each Friday while the Jews were in the desert. After the blessing, the leader cuts the challah for everyone and serves. We place salt on the bread because salt is a preserver, symbolizing that this meal is no longer merely a transitory experience, but a moment that will last for eternity.
9) Festive Meal. A traditional Friday night dinner usually includes several courses: fish, soup, entrée and dessert. This is a time to enjoy each other's company while partaking in the delicious Shabbat food. Each family or circle of friends creates their own Friday night traditions that include Shabbat songs, words of Torah, stories for children, and time for the children to share what they learned in school about the week's Torah portion. In some homes, people go around the table to share what they are grateful for, or to tell a small miracle story.
10) Devar Torah. Literally "a word of Torah," the Devar Torah is what really separates the Shabbat table from any other "fun dinner party." Choose a topic that's deep and relevant, and discuss it together.
11) Songs. We all remember a few favorite songs from the days of Hebrew school or summer camp. The mystics say that "song is the expression of an excited soul." Song will relax you and propel you into the Shabbat experience. Besides, if there are any children around, they'll love it. And don't worry if you can't follow the words -- it's the melody and rhythm that will give you the greatest lift.
12) Grace After Meals. After the scrumptious Sabbath meal, we thank God by reciting the Grace After Meals. We prepare for the blessing by rinsing our fingertips with water, called Mayim Acharonim, which is usually passed around the table.