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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.

Ushering Shabbat In

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.

Dressing The Children

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 spiritually."

But on the subject of bathing and dressing children for Shabbat, the last word belongs to Sarah: "Get them independent as early as possible!"

Late Shabbatot

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.

Ushering Shabbat Out

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 the week.

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 band.

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.

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Ner Nechoma
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