Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907—1972) gave us the metaphor of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) as a “palace in time.” Shabbat offers the opportunity to withdraw from our daily blur of achievement and acquisition. In a Jewish home, Shabbat dinner becomes the culinary and social vestibule of Heschel’s palace in time.
Not all Jews have Shabbat dinner and for those who do, each weekly celebration reflects the values and priorities of those around the table. Every Shabbat dinner, however, has these three hallmark blessings: over candles, over wine, and over two braided loaves of bread (challah.)
When I light the Shabbat candles, it is a powerful connection to Jewish women across time and space who have done and continue to do the same, bringing spiritual and loving light into our homes each week. The blessing over the wine declares the sanctity of the Sabbath, acknowledges the Divine’s ceasing from Creation on the seventh day, and offers gratitude for this weekly opportunity to withdraw into this palace of time. Motzi — the blessing over the challot (plural of challah) — praises God who brings forth bread from the earth. There is much rabbinic discussion about this reference since it is grain, not bread, that is harvested from the earth. In addition to being a blessing of gratitude, the Motzi refers to the messianic age when bread will be plentiful to all and none will go hungry.
When our children were little, we shared Shabbat dinner with other families. These round robin potluck gatherings became part of the rhythm of our days. Each week there was conversation and ritual, great food, laughter, occasional sleepovers for the kids. Week after week we built a community that is now extending into the third generation as our children (geography permitting) share an occasional Shabbat dinner and their children have begun to form friendships.
For now, it’s just my husband and me for Shabbat dinner. Sometimes we share blessings with our kids and grandkids via Zoom; eventually we will be able to gather with our friends once again. Until then, this weekly tradition sustains us as it has sustained Jews for centuries. Amen.
artwork, 1997, courtesy of Emma Darvick