Chabad at Stanford
Wisdom Center
Friday Night Live Bookmark and Share
Friday Night Live
By: Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even-Yisrael

On entering a home on the eve of Shabbat, one may see how a dwelling place is made into a sanctuary. The table on which are set the white loaves of Shabbat bread and the burning candles recall the Holy Temple with its menorah and its shew bread. The table itself is a reminder of the altar in the Temple, for eating could and should become an act of sacrifice. In other words, the relation between man and the food he consumes, as expressed in the intention behind eating the food, corresponds to the cosmic connection between the material and the spiritual as expressed by every sacrifice on the altar. The Kiddush consecration is connected with the drinking of the wine, which is associated with the Shabbat wine sacrifices in the Holy Temple. The candles lit by the women of the house emphasize the light of Shabbat, the sanctification of the day, and the special task of the woman as representative of the Shekhinah of Malkhut.

Shabbat is bound up with the divine manifestation in the Sefirah of Malkhut ("kingdom"), which represents the Shekhinah and also the totality, the receptacle that absorbs all that occurs, and is also connected with the first Sefirah, the Crown. Therefore the quality of the Shabbat Eve, which is the summing up of work and events in time, can also be a preparation for the manifestation of the Shabbat as the crown and beginning of time. The Sefirah of Malkhut, or the Shekhinah, represents the divine power as manifested in reality, operating in an infinite variety of ways and means. It has seventy names, each expressing another aspect, another face of this all-inclusive Sefirah. For Malkhut is the seventh of the lower Sefirot and, as the last, also includes in itself the entire ten; in other words, it expresses all of the (ten) Sefirot, each in seven different forms; so that seventy is the key number of the unfolding of the evening devoted to Malkhut and to the Shekhinah which Malkhut represents.

What is the equivalent in all the manifestations of the Shekhinah is that each represents a certain aspect of the feminine. Consequently the symbols and the contents of Shabbat Eve are always oriented to the female, with emphasis on the woman in her universal aspect as well as in terms of the Jewish family.

As part of the preparation for the Kiddush ("consecration") ceremony, the members of the household sing or recite the song of praise for the "woman of valor" (Proverb 31:10-31). The song, with its appreciation for the woman, the mother, the foundation of the home, has on this Shabbat Eve a double connotation, as praise for the lady of the house and as glorification of the Shekhinah of Malkhut who is, in a sense, the mother, the foundation of the real world. Following this is the Kiddush ceremony itself.

The Kiddush cup symbolizes the vessel through which, and into which, the blessing comes. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for drinking cup kos is the same as that of the name of god Elokim which expresses the divine revelation in the world, in nature, in law. And into the cup is poured the bounty, the wine, whose numerical value is seventy, the number of the Shabbat Eve. After the filling of the cup, which is now the vessel of consecration containing the divine plenty, it is placed on the palm of the right hand in such a way that the cup, supported by the upturned fingers, resembles or recalls a rose of five petals. For one of the symbols of Malkhut is the rose. And the cup of wine, thus expressing also the Shekhinah, stands in the center of the palm and is held by the petal fingers of the rose.

The Kiddush prayer is composed of two parts. It begins with the words of the Torah (Genesis 2:1-3) where Shabbat is first mentioned, and then proceeds to the second half which is a prayer composed by the sages especially for the Kiddush and in which various meanings of Shabbat are poetically and precisely stated. Between the two parts there is the blessing of the vine, or fruit of the grape. In each of these two parts there are exactly thirty- five words, together making seventy, the number of the Shabbat Eve. In the first section, Shabbat is treated as the day of summation and cessation of Creation, as G-d's day of rest.

The second section, selected and determined by the sages, expresses the other side of Shabbat, the imitation of G-d by Israel. There is first the declaration "Blessed art thou...by whose commandments we are sanctified," which is to say that the mitzvah is a way of reaching a level of holiness, a way to G-d. After this the prayer speaks of the choseness of Israel, as a consequence for which Israel, more than all other nations, assumes the task of carrying on the act of Creation and its aftermath of rest and holiness. Mention is then made of the exodus from Egypt, as in the version of the Ten Commandments in Deutoronomy (5:15). Shabbat, proclaimed as the day of rest from work, recollects the time of slavery in Egypt and is likened to the divine act of release from bondage and the bestowal of salvation. So Shabbat is also the weekly day celebrating the release and exodus from Egypt, as well as the concept of salvation which, as the ultimate in time, is the Shabbat of the world.

And out of this emphasis on divine choice and love and out of the need to understand man's obligation to G-d to continue and to create and to rise above and beyond creation unto the Shabbat rest, the Kiddush concludes with the relation of the Jewish people on the Shabbat and thus closes the circle of the relation between G-d and man. After the recital of the Kiddush the one who has performed the ceremony himself drinks from the cup, thereby participating in that communion of the physical with the spiritual which is the essence of all ritual. And from the same cup drink all those gathered at the table. In this way everyone participates in the meaningful act of introducing the Shabbat, represented by the flowers of the rose, which is the cup of the redemption of the individual and of the nation and of the world as a whole.

Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even-Yisroel was hailed by Time magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar." More than two million copies of his Steinsaltz Talmud (Random House) have been sold worldwide. He has been a resident scholar at both Yale and Princeton, and in 1988 was awarded the Israel Prize, the country's highest honor.