This is where it all begins, with the First Meal, and the first blessing over the wine. These words, more than any others, are going to set the pace for Shabbat.
"...so the heavens and the earth were finished..." (Genesis 2:1)
God is Creator. And since part of the definition of "God is One" is that He has no needs, then this act of creation must be one with no desire for return. It is an act of giving based on the purest love.
We get a taste of it in our own lives when we give to a newborn baby. In the first stages, there is nothing the baby can give back to us (except spit-up and dirty diapers), and yet we continue to give, and our love continues to grow.
If you give charity anonymously, helping others who will never know that it came from you, gives you a similar feeling of giving without any agenda, without ever expecting anything in return.
The kiddush continues:
"...[He] made us holy... favored us... gave us His holy Shabbat... marking the Exodus from Egypt..."
Who is this Creation for? It is for us. God created the world for us, gave us Shabbat, took us out of Egypt, and made us special.
The message is clear: God loves us. God created the world for our benefit.
The word kiddush is from the same root as kodesh ― holy; to elevate the physical to a level of spirituality. It is part of our challenge in this world to take the physical pleasures that the Almighty has provided and use them for a higher purpose.
Let's face it, we can use the physical or abuse it. We can drink wine to excess and fall down drunk, or we can pour wine into a silver cup, and say a blessing over it, designating the next 24 hours as special; 24 hours of experiencing the more refined things in life: friends, nature, singing, discussion, prayer...
And wine brings joy. What greater joy could there possibly be than knowing that God is there, watching over all that He created with love.
The curtain is rising, and Shabbat begins.
When my father made kiddush it seemed like a ritual, and one that I didn't understand. When I began to study, I learned that kiddush was my connection to creation and the Jews who were enslaved in Egypt. It kind of places a Jew in history.
During the week it's easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of the business world. But when I stand to make kiddush, I am totally tuned into being a Jew. It brings everything into focus.
I use those 60 seconds as a moment of intensity ― to concentrate on the words and what it means to be a Jew.
* * *
My father never made kiddush when I was growing up, but I do remember one time that his friend did. We were at his house one Friday night and he made kiddush, but his family didn't seem to be listening. Later, as a young adult, I went to the home of a rabbi who made kiddush with such concentration and feeling that it took 20 minutes to say it!
One of my all-time favorite kiddushes was the Friday night my daughter was born. We made Shabbat in the hospital, and my kiddush was filled with a feeling of gratefulness that I had never experienced before.
* * *
I spent about six weeks in Israel. Afterwards, I went traveling through Europe and tried to keep a semblance of kosher and Shabbat.
I'll never forget my first Friday night on my own in a little cheap hotel in Paris, making kiddush over wine I had brought from Jerusalem. My Shabbat meal was bread, vegetables, and cheese ― but to me it was a banquet.
* * *
After traveling to South Africa to attend my best friend's wedding, I decided to have a little adventure and go on safari with some local Jewish guys my age.
We went to this remote reserve and stayed in a cabin. The guys in this group were more likely to be in a nightclub than a synagogue on Friday night, yet when I poured the wine for kiddush, everyone gathered around.
Now you must keep in mind that we were in the middle of a jungle, and when night falls the animal sounds become very loud and quite ferocious.
But as I began the blessing, a hush seemed to fall, as if nature were allowing me to bring in Shabbat with a special peace, even in the wild. Definitely my most exciting Shabbat!
* * *
My father used to make a kind of Reader's Digest version of kiddush, but my grandfather taught me the full kiddush when I was a little boy. He had me memorize the Hebrew, although I had no idea what I was saying. But something stayed with me.
I try and work on not losing the freshness of kiddush, for I would hate for it to become a tired ritual, instead of the special moment that it is in our lives. To help me in that, I always try and think of my grandfather, and how he patiently taught a little boy a Hebrew prayer that would come to mean so much.
* * *
As I began learning more about what it means to be a Jew, I decided it was about time to put it into action. So I started to make kiddush. The food I was eating afterward wasn't kosher, but I was taking it all one step at a time.
We designated Friday night as special, stopped driving, and my wife began lighting candles. I started to go to shul and making kiddush.
My Hebrew skills are not so great. I try and use a siddur with Hebrew and English, so that when I'm saying the Hebrew I can glance over and understand what I am saying.
* * *
After traveling through Europe, I landed in Israel and spent a traditional Shabbat with a family in the Old City of Jerusalem. When the man made kiddush, something in me connected with the familiarity of it, for, as a little girl, I had remembered listening to my brother practice kiddush for his bar mitzvah.
* * *
I'm 58 years old, and I never learned how to read Hebrew. My bar mitzvah was totally phonetic, I memorized what I could, and read the English transliteration for the rest. And all these years I just faked it in shul.
After 35 years, of marriage (and a long time after my bar mitzvah!), my wife started asking me to make kiddush on Friday night. This was something very new, but it seemed important to her. So I did it by using the English phonetics.
My wife's interest in Judaism became so keen that she convinced me to go to Israel with her for six weeks to study. I agreed, and soon I found myself sitting in the Old City of Jerusalem with a rabbi half my age. We studied the weekly Torah Portion, the laws of Shabbat, and a host of other things. Finally, one day he asked me what else I'd like to learn, and I told him Hebrew.
He taught me to read in one afternoon. I was a new person, sounding out the ads on the bus, reading the street signs, and the restaurant menus. I didn't know what everything meant, but I could read!
When we got home, we invited all of our grown sons for Friday night dinner, and I stood up and sounded out every Hebrew word of kiddush. It took me a long time, but I did it. Afterward, my wife told me my sons sat so amazed, you could have heard a pin drop. All I remember is sweating through it, but at the end feeling like a million bucks, especially when the whole table answered with a resounding "Amen!"
* * *
Years ago my wife and I traveled to China when they were just opening the doors to visitors. Our tour group was made up mostly of North Americans, and we all experienced the wonder and excitement of this mysterious land.
One of the most memorable parts of the trip was a cruise we took down one of their rivers. We all set sail one Friday morning for a four-day adventure on the Chinese waters.
Sometime in the afternoon I asked the captain if it was all right if I made kiddush for me and my wife and another Jewish couple we had met on the tour. He said it was fine.
Well, within a matter of an hour, word had spread throughout the boat, and people were coming up to us ― people we hadn't even known were Jewish ― asking to participate.
The captain was most accommodating and invited our growing group to perform this "Sabbath ritual" on the highest deck near his quarters. It was quite an event as Jews from all over gathered round while I brought in Shabbat.
Adapted from "Friday Night and Beyond" by Lori Palatnik