Shabbat -- known in English as the Sabbath -- is a day of physical and spiritual renewal. Shabbat takes place on the day of the week known as Saturday and the word Shabbat means cease or rest. The first mention of the concept of Shabbat is in Genesis 1:1-2:3, although the word "Shabbat" which is the noun form of the word is not used. The Eternal worked for six days to create the world and on the seventh day ceased working and blessed the seventh day. There the verb form "shavat" is used.
In the episode of the manna when the Children of Israel were in the desert for forty years the Eternal supplied manna for each of five days and on the sixth day a double portion for the seventh, the Shabbat, on which no manna appeared. In the Ten Commandments all work is forbidden on Shabbat. In Deuteronomy Israel is told to keep Shabbat so that the slaves might rest and because the Eternal liberated us from Egyptian bondage. Shabbat is a sign of the Eternal's consecration of Israel and of the six days of creation.
The prophet Jeremiah berates rulers and populace of Judah for condoning hauling of market wares in Jerusalem on Shabbat. He prophesized that the fate of the dynasty and the city is dependent on Shabbat observance. (Jer 17:19 -- 27). The prophet Isaiah looks to the future universalization of the Shabbat among all the nations (Isaiah 66:23).
When the First Temple was destroyed and the people were sent into exile, the day of rest and sanctification was a strong factor in promoting identification with the Biblical covenant and preventing assimilation.
The Rabbinic literature mentions Shabbat with the statement "If Israel keeps one Shabbat as it should be kept, the Messiah will come. Shabbat is the equal of all other precepts of the Torah (Midrash Raba 25:12). The Mishna goes into detail about 39 types of work and their derivatives, which are prohibited on Shabbat. They are derived from the 39 main classes of work used in the building of the Sanctuary in the desert.
Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday and continues until Saturday evening. Women inaugurate the Shabbat by lighting two or more candles and reciting a special blessing. There are special prayers in the synagogue, including a series of psalms that were instituted by 16th century Kabbalists in Safed -- Tsfat. People wear festive clothing. After synagogue services there is a blessing over wine or grape juice -- Kiddush, ritual washing of hands, and blessing over bread -- HaMotzi. There follows a festive meal to which guests are often invited. Table hymns are sung and the meal ends with a blessing over the food eaten. On Shabbat morning there are more prayers at the synagogue, including the reading from the Torah -- the Bible. Another festive meal, rest or pleasant strolls or study and then an afternoon service. The ceremony of Havdalah marks the separation of Shabbat from the week on Saturday night.
The blessing for the Shabbat afternoon service expresses the Rabbinic attitude to the Shabbat as a precious gift from God and as a sacred day kept by the patriarchs. "You are One and Your name is One and who is like Your people a unique nation upon the earth? Glorious greatness and a crown of salvation even the day of rest and holiness. You have given Your people_Abraham was glad, Isaac rejoiced, Jacob and his sons rested thereon_a rest granted in love, a true and faithful rest, a rest in peace and tranquility, in quietude and safety, a perfect rest in which You delight. Let Your children know and perceive that their rest is from You and by their rest may they sanctify Your name."
The 19th century German born Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says that the prohibition of creative work on Shabbat is a lesson for man to acknowledge his Creator as Creator o0f all that is. Man is allowed to rule over the world for six days by God's will, but may not fashion anything on the seventh day for his own purpose. On Shabbat man restores the world to god_as it were_and thus proclaims he enjoys only borrowed authority (Horeb 2:21).
The Kabbalists of 16th century Tsfat symbolized Shabbat as a queen or bride. They went out into the fields to greet the Shabbat with a series of psalms. In the Zohar, a major compendium of Kabbalah, Shabbat is called a time when the entire arrangement of the order of the worlds is changed. Lights descend like dew from the upper to the lower worlds and from there the Divine abundance flows to all of creation.
Ruti and Chaim Cohen hosted me for the holiday of Simhat Torah recently. After the holiday was over I sat outside with Ruti in the warm, fragrant evening and talked with her about her family's Shabbat customs. Ruti, who is a nutrition teacher in elementary school and the mother of six children that range in age from three to sixteen years old is working on a master's degree in Jewish philosophy in her "spare" time. Chaim is a computer programmer who is also completing a master's in child psychology.
israelVisit: Do you come from a religious family background, Ruti?
Ruti: Yes I do. My parents were from the island of Djerba, off of Tunisia and virtually everyone there was religious. I was born in Jerusalem. My grandfather was a kabbalist and my father was a chazan -- a cantor. The island of Djerba was settled by cohenim -- priests -- fleeing from the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. My father was one of the few Djerbi who was not a cohen, but I married one.
israelVisit: Since I joined you for Shabbat a few weeks ago, I noticed that many of your family's Shabbat customs are similar to your holiday customs.
Ruti: That is true. The tune Chaim uses for Kiddush and the blessing over the bread -- HaMotzi are the same for Shabbat and holiday. My husband, Chaim, also comes from a religious family. He is the seventh generation descendant from Rabbi Chaim Yehoshua Heschel, the Apter Rebbe, also known as the Ohev Yisrael -- the Lover of Israel. So we combine the customs of the Western Jews, the Ashkenazim, with the customs of Djerba, which are similar to those of the Sephardim.
israelVisit: Do you ever feel bored by the constant repetition of preparing for Shabbat and the constant repetition of the rituals of Shabbat?
Ruti: Not at all. I have to clean and cook anyway and Shabbat is a wonderful rest and delight. The whole week is waiting for Shabbat. Each Friday night has a similar pattern but there are interesting variations every week. Sometimes we are just the family and sometimes we have guests. We sing different songs and different melodies as well as the old favorites each week. Sometimes when we're just family we sing Bakashot -- kabbalistic melodies for Friday night.
israelVisit: I noticed that you bring the hand-washing vessels to the people sitting at the table.
Ruti: This is a custom from my family. We go around to each person pouring water from a copper cup into a copper basin. We also have the custom of giving an individual blessing to each person who receives a slice of challah after the blessing over the bread. Chaim says one sentence from the ancient priestly blessing to each person and if there are many guests like this holiday he uses additional sources, such as the patriarch Jacob's blessings to his sons.
israelVisit: I was very moved by receiving a blessing together with the challah. It's a lovely custom. Ruti, what do you do on Saturday, the day of Shabbat?
Ruti: Since my father was a chazan, I learned the cantillation, the traditional Djerba melodies for the reading of the Torah. Every Shabbat morning at home I go over the Torah portion while singing the melodies. My children have picked up the cantillation just from hearing me and they often join me in the chanting.
israelVisit: Please tell our readers about some other customs.
Ruti: When I have the time to bake bread I make twelve challot, each one with a spindle shape. This is another old Djerba custom to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. They are arranged on the table in six groups of two each. My Shabbat lights are made of olive oil, not wax.
israelVisit: Have you been to the island of Djerba yourself?
Ruti: Not yet. I hope to take my mother there sometime soon. It is a beautiful place, now on the tourist route. There is a synagogue there that has a gateway or door or lintel, I don't remember exactly which, that the original cohenim brought with them from the First Temple. There is a lot of history and a lot of my family history there. Maybe you would like to join us?
israelVisit: I'd love to. And thanks for the interview. It's been informative and fascinating.
Beautiful buys from israelVisit for Shabbat
IsraelVisit artists and craftspeople offer you a range of beautiful Judaica items to add an additional dimension to your Shabbat experience.
At Jill's Birchonim you can purchase many different types of blessing books and Shabbat table hymns. Why not replace your old benchers -- blessing books, with new ones?
Chaim Peretz is a vitrage artist and silversmith who produces unique Shabbat candlesticks in stained glass and sterling silver. He has five different designs, including the dove in the grapevine, the dove in the pomegranate tree as well as triangle shaped candlesticks. Also take a look at his havdala set in purple, blue and green glass, inlaid with sterling silver. This four piece set includes spice box, candleholder, wine cup with a special base.
Yaakov Davidoff is a master silver smith and gold smith. His creations add new meaning to the concept of hidur hamitzva -- the beautification of the religious obligation. Yaakov's Shabbbat Halla Board combines beauty and function in a board made of precious woods and a knife in sterling silver. Hidden in the knife handle is a salt cellar. His Shabbat candle set of carved silver can be used for either wax candles or olive oil. Yaakov offers two Hallah knives, one with a silver handle and one with an ebony handle. His Havdala Set includes six elegant handcrafted sterling silver pieces. He also creates a compact Havdala Set. His Kiddush Collection includes an 8-sided Kiddush cup crafted either in 24K gold or sterling silver, with scenes from the creation of the world in Genesis.
Shoshana Oliva of Avnei Hoshen creates a lovely sterling silver Kiddush cup in sterling silver set with the twelve gems that were in the breastplate of the High Priest. She also offers sterling silver pendants set with gems.
Sarah Tamir fashions unique Havdala sets of both olivewood and oak, inlaid with silver and precious gems.
Michael Folickman paints miniatures in oils and watercolors. He offers originals or prints of his miniatures depicting themes of Jewish life and Israel.
Artist Shoshana Meerkin produces prints showing various themes from life in Israel.