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Imagine that you are about to take a trip to another world.
You are preparing for a most exciting experience. It will be a totally different place,
and you are looking forward to things you have never seen or experienced before.
But it is different, and you will have to adjust to it. Your experiences here
will be of little use to you once you get there.
You are given an instruction manual, telling you how to live on this new world. It is a
thick book, filled with detailed charts and lists. You read it through and are left very
confused and distressed. How can one understand this new world? How will one possibly
adjust to all these complex conditions and rules? Before you have started, you are almost
ready to abandon the trip completely.
But you make up your mind and decide to go through with the trip. You get there, and as
you expected, find it very difficult to adjust, but then the days pass, and you become
used to your new world. After a while, all your questions and apprehensions have vanished.
A while later, you look at your instruction manual again. This time, you read it in a new
light. Most of it now seems very obvious. Things look very different now that you have
For many of us, the Sabbath is a new world.
We have difficulty understanding and really feeling its significance. Reading a book like
this only seems to complicate the matter. It is talking of a world that seems very alien.
We read, but somehow do not understand.
When put in writing, keeping the Sabbath seems like an impossibly difficult task. How can
one remember all the rules and regulations, much less observe them? How can one possibly
keep the Sabbath in this modem day and age?
It is not as difficult as it sounds. Hundreds of thousands of Jews all over the world keep
the Sabbath, and the number is increasing every year. And, for most of them, observing it
is one of the easiest and most enjoyable things possible.
But there is really only one way to learn about the Sabbath.
That is by trying it.
You may struggle through it on your own for a few weeks. A much easier way is to spend a
few Sabbaths with an observant family and learn how to feel the mood, or you might spend a
weekend or two at a Shabbaton. But gradually, you will learn the feeling of
once you really feel it, you will never forget it.
Many things in this book may now seem strange. But once you have the feel of the
they will be very obvious. It will be like reading a guidebook of your own home town. Once
you live there, it no longer appears strange.
But Shabbos must also be a do-it-yourself project. In order to really feel the
cannot wait for it to come to you. You must get into it. The Torah tells us (Ex.
31:16) "to make the Sabbath." Every person must make his own
must prepare yourself and get into the mood. Only then will you be able to feel its true
significance, for Shabbos is not an intellectual exercise. If it were, meditating about it
would be enough. We might provide explanations, but true understanding only comes from
doing and feeling.
In a way, Shabbos is like love. You can talk about love for the rest of your life, but if
you have never experienced it, you will never understand it. Once you have been in love
though, no further discussion is necessary.
Shabbos is a bond of love between ourselves and G-d.
To understand it, you must experience it.
Do It Yourself
The Shabbos mood begins with its preparation. The Commandment says, "Remember the
Sabbath day to keep it holy," Our sages teach us that in order to truly keep it holy,
we must remember it all week long and prepare for it. If you see something you will enjoy
on Shabbos, by all means set it aside for use on the Sabbath. 1
The preparations for Shabbos reach their peak on Friday afternoon. You then direct most of
your activities toward Shabbos. Recall the lesson of our sages, "He who prepares on
Friday, will eat on Shabbos." 2 Anticipate it as you would an important visitor.
After all, Shabbos is the Queen of all Creations. 3
Eat lightly on Friday afternoon. Work up an appetite for the Shabbos meal.
Make sure that you will have the tastiest possible food for Shabbos. If possible, do
something to help prepare the meal. Make sure that everything will be just right for the
Clean up your room and tidy your belongings. Put away all weekday things. Prepare your
surroundings to reflect the Shabbos mood.
Take a relaxing bath or shower. Cleanse your mind and soul along with your body.
Put on your best clothes. Dress as if for an important occasion. If possible, have special
Shabbos clothing set aside.
Many of our Tzadikim (pious people) have the custom of reading the Shir
HaShirim (Song of Songs) just before Shabbos. It is the most beautiful love poem ever
written, telling of the love between G-d and His people. Read it if you have time, and try
to feel this love.
Prepare the table for the Shabbos meal. Cover it with a fine white tablecloth. Set it with
your best china and silver in honor of the Queen.
Set aside two Challahs, Lechem Mishneh of Shabbos, and cover them with a clean
napkin or special cover. Prepare the wine for Kiddush along with a special goblet set
aside as a Kiddush cup. If possible, try to have a silver one.
Make sure that candles will be lit in the room where you will eat. If there is no one else
to light them, do it yourself. Light them 18-20 minutes before sunset and gaze at their
light for a few moments. Feel them radiate the light of Shabbos.
As the Shabbos arrives, treat it as an honored guest. Wrap yourself in a hush of serenity.
Try to raise the plane of your life. Direct your conversation, and even your thoughts,
toward a higher level.
Now is the time to gather and pray. If you have a synagogue within walking distance, join
with their Sabbath service. By no means destroy the Shabbos spirit by riding in a car. It
violates both the law and mood of Shabbos. If there is no convenient synagogue, find a
quiet corner and pray by yourself.
If you can read Hebrew, go through the service in our ancient, sacred language. Even when
you do not understand the words, listen to their sound and feel them on your tongue.
Imagine these same sounds spoken by Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and David. Let your mind relax
and allow the words to become part of you. Let the Holy Language and the Holy Day bind
themselves together and surround you with light on all sides. A siddur with an accurate
and modern translation will help make the words even more meaningful.
If you cannot read Hebrew, say the prayers in English. Ponder their meaning and let them
penetrate your being. When you say "Blessed are You," you are not just saying
words. Think for a moment about this "You." Don't just say the prayers
---address them to G-d.
Walk quietly home from synagogue. You might gaze at the stars and recall the Psalmist's
words (Ps. 8:4), "When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the
moon and stars which You have established . . . What is man, that You think of him, or the
son of man, that You remember him?" Do not forget the answer . . . G-d does indeed
Enter the house with a Shabbos greeting ---" Shabbat Sholom", or "Good
Sing Shalom Alechem and the Kiddush. As you say the words, let the Shabbos enter
into you. Drink the Kiddush wine and let it lull you into a state of Shabbos serenity.
Wash your hands with a blessing, and remain silent until the blessing over the Challahs is
said. Dip it in salt, and chew the portion slowly, relishing every morsel. Keep in mind
that you are eating it as an offering to G-d.
Take a moment and enjoy the Shabbos meal. Perhaps you too will taste the "special
seasoning" that Shabbos adds to the food. 4
Let your mood be both happy and reflectful. Hum a tune. If you can, sing the Zemiros
(Table Hymns) from a prayer book, or any Jewish song.
Close the meal with the Birkas HaMazon (Grace After Meals). Thank G-d for giving
you food and for the special blessing that comes with this day.
After the meal, it is a time to relax. Use this time to learn about G-d and His teachings.
Read the portion that will be read from the Torah that particular week. Take a quiet
Now is a time to be alone with G-d for a while. Take a calm walk alone, or sit in your
room. Ask G-d to help you feel the holiness of Shabbos.
Reflect a moment on your life. Ask yourself: What am I doing and where am I going? What
does life, mean to me? What am I doing wrong, and how can I improve myself? Ask G-d to
help you find answers.
Be happy that you're alive.
Shabbos is a time to get together. If you know others who keep Shabbos, gather together
with them. Use the long winter Friday nights and summer Saturday afternoons as a time of
companionship. Sing songs and tell stories. Use it as a time to learn together. Strengthen
your bond of friendship.
As the evening draws to a close, let the serenity of Shabbos overwhelm you. "Sabbath
sleep is a delight."5 As you prepare yourself for the night, say the Sh'ma
and place yourself in G-d's hands. Fall asleep in Shabbos rest.
Begin the Sabbath day in the same mood. Spring out of bed, and make prayer your first
order of the day. Let the morning service awaken you, both physically and spiritually.
Make the second Sabbath meal at noon as much of a banquet as the first the night before.
Spend the day in deep awareness of Shabbos. Let study and friendship help you keep the
As the sun begins to set, you should feel a change. The Queen is preparing to leave. The
third Sabbath meal is a time of sweet longing for a day that is about to close.
When the skies are dark and the stars appear, Shabbos is over. It is time for Havdalah,
the prayer that ushers in a new week. Inhale the spices and enjoy a last taste of
Paradise. Gaze at the twisted candle, and meditate about how this day will brighten the
Do all this, and you will begin to feel the spirit of Shabbos. You might not feel it all
the first time, but do not be discouraged. If you truly seek it, it will eventually be
yours. The task is not difficult, but you must persevere. You are on the quest of
Eternity. Eventually you will find it.
We have a promise.
G-d Himself told His prophet. (Isa. 58:13 f.):
If you trample not the Sabbath,
do no business on My holy day;
Call the Sabbath a delight,
and honor G-d's holy day;
Keep yourselves from daily tasks,
from weekday interests,
speaking mere words.
Then will you find joy in G-d,
soar the earth's heights,
take in Jacob's heritage--
G-d Himself has said it.
Why The Sabbath
The Thirty Nine Categories
A Taste of Light
1 Betza 15b; Mechlita, Ramban on Ex. 20:8, Chayay Adam B 1:1.
2 Avodah Zarah 3a.
3 Shabbos 119a, Baba Kama 32b; Pesikta Zutrasa, BaShalach 16:5, Sefer Chasidim 149, Tiferes Yisroel
5 Yalkut Reuveni, VeEsChanan; Sh'nei Luchos HaBris, Mesechta Shabbos (Jerusalem 5720):7b.