26 June 2020

‘A mutual pledge of loyalty and love’
as God’s ‘blessings flow into the world’

Patrick Comerford

In his commentaries in the Authorised Prayer Book, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks includes a number of Shabbat meditations for Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.

In one of his notes on the Evening Service for Shabbat and Festivals, he says ‘Shabbat is a celebration of the Jewish home and the home is the matrix of Judaism.

He says that the prophets compared the relationship between God and the people with the relationship between husband and wife and between parent and child.

He explains that the Hebrew word emunah (אמונה), usually translated as ‘faith,’ in fact means ‘faithfulness, fidelity,’ the virtue born and sustained within the home.

Lord Sachs continues, ‘The love between husband and wife is the human redemption of solitude. The love between parent and child is the closest we come to immortality in world, for it is through our children that we, and what we live for, live on.’

Friday night, he says, is when, ‘freed from the pressures of work, we can give time and loving attention to one another. It is also the time when we feel most profoundly the Shechinah, the Divine presence, in the home. Our relationship to God and to those closest to us are both covenantal; that is to say, a mutual pledge of loyalty and love. Through the family and the quality of its relationships, Divine blessings flow into the world.’

He describes how, in the prayers and customs before the Friday evening meal, the values on which the home is built are enacted sequentially:

1, lighting candles, symbolising domestic Peace

2, blessing children, or responsibility and continuity

3, welcoming angels, invisible signs of God

4, praising ‘the woman of strength,’ guardian of the homes

5, Kiddush, the dimension of holiness

6, the blessing over bread, a symbol of sustenance as God’s gift

7, song and words of Torah, expressing faith in joy

The Friday night Kiddush contains three elements:

1, a Biblical reading referring to the first Shabbat when God completed creation and rested on the seventh day

2, a blessing over the wine

3, a blessing over the day itself

Kiddush for Shabbat evening begins with a Biblical reading:

‘The sixth day. Then the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their array. With the seventh day, God completed the work he had done. He ceased on the seventh day from all the work he had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it he ceased from all his work he had created to do.’

Kiddush for Shabbat evening then continues:

‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine.

‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through his commandments, who has favoured us, and in love and favour gave us his holy Sabbath as a heritage, a remembrance of the work of creation. It is the first among the holy days of assembly, a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt. For you chose us and sanctified us from all peoples, and in love and favour gave us your holy Sabbath as a heritage. Blessed are you, Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.’

It is customary for all present to drink of the wine. All then wash their hands, saying immediately after the washing:

‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through his commandments, and has commanded us about washing hands.’

After washing hands, one should not speak until one has eaten some of the challah, the Shabbat bread. Holding both loaves, the person making the blessing says:

‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.’

Some of the bread should be given to each person present.

The words ‘declared it holy’ in the reading from the Genesis narrative of Creation are important. Dr Sacks points out this is the first time the word ‘holy’ appears in the Torah, indicating that time, not just space, is holy, and time is sanctified in Shabbath, so that Shabbat is ‘a sanctuary in time.’

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