Photo Credit: Harvey Rachlin
Harvey Rachlin

Late Friday afternoon or early evening: The golden orb in the sky slowly descends into the distant horizon. Its light wanes and darkness begins to cover the earth. Soon our mortal world is blanketed with holiness and a palpable spiritual presence fills the air.

It is the start of Shabbos, a day unlike any other, a day of rest and tranquility, hope and promise, sweetness and joy. For those who imbibe in the sacred day’s resplendent spirit, a special feeling sets in and the senses are rapturously soothed with its sublime bliss.

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Inside the Jewish home, the Shabbos candles are lit and gentle flames usher those who dwell within into the hallowed spirit of the holy day. The home is now connected in a placid, ethereal way to the Almighty. As the last rays of sunlight fade into the heavens, the candles’ divine glow illuminates our hearts and sanctifies our home

The Shabbos dinner table is the illustrious stage around which participants gather to dine and carry on the time-honored traditions of the Shabbos meal. Prayers and rituals of drinking wine, washing the hands, and eating challah precede the scrumptious Shabbos repast, which is followed by a mellifluous and sprightly Birkat HaMazon – the grace after meals. It’s all exuberantly inspiriting and uplifting and warming.

What an incomparable joy it is, Shabbos eve. Marking the beginning of the Shabbos glories to come, it is rich with anticipation of the praying and learning and pleasures and relaxation ahead. Knowing on Friday night that Shabbos is still young and that all its savory delights are yet ahead of us, we are buoyant with anticipation.

Indeed, Shabbos eve arrives like a prelude to a sacred symphony, a preamble to a consecrated work, an overture to an august movement of a masterpiece. It welcomes us unconditionally and heartily to what is destined to be an effervescent divine experience. It is a magnet to our souls, drawing us into the fabric and contours of the Shabbos experience.

The Jewish home on Shabbos eve is a sanctum of peace, a haven of warmth, a bastion of contentment, a port of expectation. It is a refuge from the secular world and its variegated burdens, stresses, hardships and afflictions; a welcoming respite from earthly and material matters.

As the hours on Friday night push on, it is comforting to bask in the sacred stillness of the moment, to relish it for the blessed time it is, and to look forward to the spiritual delights ahead. Beginnings are special for their promise of tomorrow, and Shabbos eve is the quintessence of exalted anticipation.

While the incandescence of the Shabbos light reigns indoors, the darkness of the outside world gives way to daylight, and dawn heralds the transcendent gratifications to come. A morning service in shul, followed by a delectable Kiddush and then more stimulating Torah discussions to accompany another hearty meal, and then perhaps some leisurely reading and an afternoon nap before we return to shul for the concluding Shabbos service all leave us with an unparalleled sense of being close to our Creator.

And so we gratefully take in the wonders of Shabbos, enjoying it for its beauty and its comforts, its marvels and its meaning. We know that this singular day of unbridled joy will eventually come to a close, but we will be happily cognizant throughout the week that every day that passes brings us one day closer to the next Shabbos – and the thought gives us soaring cheer.

For soon we will get to live it all over again, beginning on Shabbos eve, that exhilarating prelude, preamble, and overture to a majestic day.

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Harvey Rachlin, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series “History’s Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.