A Progressive Jewish Congregation in Portland, Oregon
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Shabbat: the Secret Spice

Our ancient ancestors used to mark the beginning of Shabbat by adding aromatic spices (we’re not exactly sure which) to their home oil lamp.

The special aroma made sundown on Friday into the day of rest.

The Rabbis encoded the concept of rest as a universal right in halakhah, the path of Jewish observance – for all people and for all life on earth.

Wandering stateless in Exile, our people held on to Shabbat ever more determinedly. We created a musical welcome of Shabbat, Kabbalat Shabbat, to sing and dance our way out of the week; and no matter the poverty, our erev Shabbat meal had to be the best we could manage.

“More than Israel has preserved the Shabbat,
the Shabbat has preserved Israel.”
– Ahad Ha’Am


That erev Shabbat meal became the focal point for the ritual that allowed us the relief of week’s end:

The blessings – of candles, Kiddush over wine, and children, and finally over the hallah that represented the meal – reminded us of gratitude.

The meal itself was to be shared with family and friends – no one should be alone in such moments.

As a moment that marks the end of the work-week and the beginning of relaxation, it’s the ideal time to take our time: to hear each other’s stories of the week that was, to sing the Birkat haMazon and Shabbat songs, maybe even to have a word or two offered about the parashat hashavua, the Torah reading that will be shared the next morning in shul.

Erev Shabbat is a time to be reminded of gratitude for the things that save our lives by making them meaningful.

We are offered the chance every week, and any week is a good time to start, or deepen, your erev Shabbat observance. There’s no one “right” way to do it, and the Rabbis assure us that harei zeh m’shubakh, every effort is praiseworthy.

This Shabbat At Home guide is meant to help you explore the ritual of Kabbalat Shabbat, “welcoming Shabbat” at home, as hosts or guests. The house doesn’t have to be perfect and the food doesn’t have to be gourmet; as our tradition has always taught, it’s the Shabbat spice that makes it lovely.

Enjoy, and Shabbat shalom!

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