The Shabbat Primer
Ushering Shabbat In And Out
The few hours just before and after Shabbat arrives and departs are special transition
times. Each period has a recognized mood and name. The hour of Shabbat's imminent
arrival is full of bustling and happy anticipation - it is "Kabbalat Shabbat," the
time of "Greeting the Shabbat." By contrast, the hour of Shabbat's departure is
often a bit wistful and sad. It is "Melaveh Malka," the time of "Escorting the Queen
Out." In order to show her out in style and to try to hold on to the Shabbat mood
a bit longer, Melaveh Malka often becomes a celebration in itself. In this way we
circle Shabbat with joy.
The hour or so before candlelighting is hectic, true, but it should also be a time
of spiritual preparation. Men sometimes take the opportunity to review the weekly
Bible portion. Women, if they've planned well, can also make time for study and
meditation. In most cases, though, women's spiritual uplift comes through doing
the many down-to-earth mitzvot necessary to "make Shabbat." A good thing to keep
in mind is the variety of active meditation possibilities in Judaism available to
anyone - man, woman, or child - who is busy with his or her hands making Shabbat.
You can inwardly intend and devote each act "lichvod Shabbat." You can stop now
and then, as Rachel suggests, take a deep breath, and "send a thought-arrow to Hashem."
You can listen to a cassette of Torah commentary. And, of course, you can heighten
everyone's joy with some lively Shabbat songs.
Just before candlelighting it's
customary to give tzedakah, at least double the amount you usually give. Don't keep
this a private act. Be sure your children see you do it and, just as important,
give each one coins of his own to drop into the box.
There's no need to worry about having your children all dressed by candlelighting,
though of course it's preferable. Rachel says, "I dress only those children who
will cooperate. After I light candles, I try to dress the others, if any. Actually,
I find that my children know how to dress themselves in Shabbat clothes long before
they can dress themselves for school...."
Nechoma and other mothers we interviewed
feel it's a waste of energy to dress very young children who go to bed early anyway,
in Shabbat finery. They just put on the kids' best "Shabbat pajamas," and take them
to bed right after kiddush.
Shaina, ever efficient, has streamlined both the dressing and bathing schedules
of her children. In winter the kids are all bathed Thursday night, but in summer
they simply go to the swimming pool Friday afternoon and shower afterwards in the
changing room there. Upon their return home, Shaina dresses her little boys in p,j.'s
and her little girls in p.j,'s under pretty Shabbat robes. Then, when they fall
asleep, she just takes off their robes and puts them straight into bed.
Batya also tries to bathe all her young children before Friday. The older boys
go to the mikva Friday afternoon and come home "thoroughly clean, physically and
But on the subject of bathing and dressing children for Shabbat, the last word
belongs to Sarah: "Get them independent as early as possible!"
Thanks to Summer Time, Shabbat can begin as late as ten o'clock in many parts of
the world. While this hour may be convenient for commuters, it poses problems for
families with young children, and for anyone who dislikes eating dinner at the "fashionable"
hour of eleven at night.
Fortunately, there is a halachic solution to this difficulty.
Since we can add weekday time to Shabbat (but not subtract from it), many communities
move candlelighting back to 7:00 and recite the Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat Maariv
prayers before nightfall, in contrast to the usual practice. Only the Shema must
then be repeated later after dark.
If this solution has not been agreed upon in your community or is otherwise impractical,
you can try something else. You might feed everyone, but especially the little kids,
the main course at your normal dinner time. Later, the younger children may just
participate in the kiddush, have some soup, and then go to bed. At least you will
know they've already eaten well.
The sun is setting, and the Shabbat Queen is preparing to leave. There's a gentle,
faintly sad mood about the hour. Seuda Shlishit, Maariv prayers, and Havdalah are
over, but we long to hold on to the Shabbat a bit longer, to bring its spirit into
Some people fulfill these desires by observing the Melaveh Malka, an
"escorting the Queen out" celebration after Shabbat ends. Melaveh Malka can take
forms as varied as the ecstatic dancing and singing of hundreds at a synagogue or
yeshiva, an intimate gathering of a few friends at home, or almost anything in between.
What is appropriate for all of them is words of Torah, stories of the sages and
the Chassidic masters, friendly conversation, and, now that Shabbat is over, joyous
singing with optional musical accompaniment. Everyone's stomach is well-filled from
the previous twenty-four hours, so refreshments are usually simple.
Melaveh Malka is an ideal opportunity to create an alternative "Saturday night"
experience. Instead of rushing out to a movie or flopping before the TV at home
- and thus abruptly dumping the Shabbat world for the weekday one - a Jew celebrating
Melaveh Malka blends the two worlds. Many people feel completely recharged after
a total immersion in Shabbat. They are ready for some excitement, some movement,
and a different kind of social life. Melaveh Malka provides all this while retaining
the Shabbat spirit of kedusha.
If it is not being observed now, you might consider initiating a Melaveh Malka
at your synagogue, Hillel House, or Jewish Center. In many ways Motzei Shabbat is
a better time for such a gathering than the more usual Friday night Oneg Shabbat.
People are rested by Motzei Shabbat, whereas on Friday night they're often tired
from the week. Women, too, both organizers and guests, can travel to the shul, bring
refreshments, and set up more conveniently on Saturday night. Musical instruments
are allowed as well, adding to the spirit of the evening.
There is plenty of room for imaginative programming at a Melaveh Malka. One of
the most memorable ones Chana has ever attended began with some lively Shabbat songs
accompanied by guitar, continued with a thought-provoking dvar Torah by the rabbi
with discussion afterwards, a slide-talk by a congregant whose hobby was Jewish
genealogy, refreshments, and then dancing to the music of a talented local klezmer
Try inviting a few friends to a home Melaveh Malka, as well. The emphasis is
on the spirit of the evening, not the food, so in addition to all its other advantages,
Melaveh Malka is an ideal occasion for the informal or inexperienced hostess.
Although there's certainly nothing wrong with a purely social evening in which
everyone sits in a circle and chats, it's desirable to make it something more. From
experience we have found that for this to happen the group requires a leader, someone
who will start a dvar Torah or other discussion of Jewish issues, initiate the singing,
and so forth. Not too much direction is called for; people just need someone to
make the first move. With just a bit of forethought and structure, then, the group
can be nudged above the kibbitzing-and-nashing level to a true Melaveh Malka celebration.