Shabbat is the most important day of the week for Jews, because it is a day on which we remember that God created the world and everything in it. God created the world in six days, but on the seventh day, Shabbat, He rested, and, like Him, we also rest on Shabbat.
The name Shabbat comes from the root Shin-Bet-Taf, which means ‘to end’ or ‘to rest’. In English, Shabbat is known as ‘Sabbath’ although Jews mostly use the Hebrew name, Shabbat (also pronounced ‘Shabbos’ by Ashkenazi Jews).
Shabbat is so important that it is the only ritual that is mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Shabbat is a precious day from God, a day which we look forward to all week.
Shabbat is described as being like a queen or a bride. There is a popular song, “Lecha Dodi Likrat Kalah” where we sing “Come, my Beloved to meet the Sabbath Bride.” We do this just as Shabbat is about to begin.
Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday and ends at nightfall on Saturday. It is a very precious time: a time for peace, harmony and relaxation that we do not have on other days of the week. For busy people, it is an opportunity to enjoy a type of peace and relaxation they do not get on other days when they must get their work done.
- We treat Shabbat as though she was our best friend coming to share the whole day with us. We look forward to her arrival and wait excitedly for her to get here. We prepare our home and get ready all the things she might like.
- What would you most like to eat? Better still, what would your friend most like to eat? We eat the nicest food of the week, like challah and sweet wine.
- For Shabbat we set the table to welcome our Shabbat Queen, with the best tablecloth, the knives and forks polished, and the candlesticks ready to be lit in time for the arrival of Shabbat.
- We eat three meals on Shabbat: one on Friday night, the second on Saturday lunch and the third on Saturday afternoon (before Havdalah).
- We wash before Shabbat and wear good clothes on Shabbat
- We make blessings over the candles, the wine and the challah (a special, plaited bread).
- Our parents bless us on Friday night even if they were angry with us during the week.
- Husbands thank their wives for all their hard work by reciting the “Eshet Chayil”, a poem that says women are worth more than rubies.
- We take the time to talk about our lives. Our parents have time to listen to us and we sing songs and tell stories until late.
- We stop working on Shabbat. We do not write or do homework, go shopping, drive cars, or turn o nor off electricity. We do not even tear paper. Shabbat is a time where we rest and take the time to enjoy doing nothing creative. This helps us remember that it was God Who created the world.
- We have more time to pray on Shabbat, and there are special prayers in synagogue, including the reading of the Torah portion of the week (Parshat haShavuah).
- To end the Shabbat, there is a ceremony called Havdalah (separation). Havdalah highlights the separation between Shabbat and the rest of the week. To hold on to Shabbat a little longer, we say a blessing over wine, we sniff spices and we light and extinguish a plaited candle.