Throughout the millennia of our People’s existence, Shabbos has been a cornerstone of Yiddishkeit. So fundamental is it to our faith, that Shabbos observance has practically become the barometer by which we judge if one is considered religious or not. Yet, a complaint has been voiced a number of times that Shabbos is all about what we cannot do, and Shabbos lacks sufficient positive ways in which we can serve the Creator. Such a conception is patently false. This column aims to describe the innumerable ways in which we can actively serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu on the Holy Day. And so we go.
In previous weeks we discussed the Shabbos themes of Kabbalas Shabbos, Maariv, Shabbos candles, Shabbos clothing, and more. Now we will move on to a very broad Shabbos theme that has many subcategories – all contained in what we call the Shabbos seudos. The Shabbos seudos provide us with a great number of things we can actively do on Shabbos. So without any further ado, let’s get started!
Halacha states (Gemara Shabbos 117b) that on Shabbos we celebrate with three festive meals – one on Friday night, one on Shabbos morning, and one on Shabbos afternoon. For most Jews, these meals are the highlight of Shabbos. Indeed, one will often hear a young couple describe how they can’t wait to ‘make Shabbos’ – a term used in reference to having the Shabbos feasts in one’s home. The Seudos are not merely meals; they are celebratory banquets replete with sumptuousness and grandeur. Many an unaffiliated Jew has returned to Judaism after experiencing a Shabbos seuda. Let us explore the numerous beautiful aspects and countless hidden meanings of the seudos, and then add them to our list of things to do on Shabbos.
At the very beginning of the first and second seuda we fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush. The basic procedure is that one lifts a goblet of wine and recites a particular text. We will eventually analyze the text, as well as the mitzvah of kiddush, but for now let’s discuss the goblet of wine. Why did our Sages mandate (Pesachim 106a) that the 31st mitzvah in the Torah (kiddush) should be recited while holding a goblet of wine? I suppose the simple explanation is that it adds splendor to the mitzvah, thereby fulfilling the Torah’s injunction to beautify the mitzvos. But there’s a deeper meaning as well. Can you guess what it is?
Perhaps we can begin to find an answer to this question if we look to see where else in Judaism we use a goblet of wine. The answer is – everywhere! There is nary a life event that doesn’t involve a goblet of wine. In case you’re drawing a blank, let’s call to mind a bris, a pidyon haben, a wedding, a sheva brachos, every Yom Tov, and birchas hamazon at every seudas mitzvah which is attended by a minyan! But why is this? Why do we use a goblet at every significant life event? And while we’re asking, why does every life event also include breaking bread (i.e. a seuda)? What is this obsession with wine and bread?
The answer is as follows. Wine and bread are symbols of our relationship with the Almighty. You see, Hashem created the world with all sorts of raw materials and put them into our hands to see what we can do with them. He blessed us with abilities and lots of potential and challenged us to make something of ourselves. It’s not about the skills with which we were born, but rather what we do with them. That’s what life is all about.
This, my friends, is why every life event is marked with wine and bread. Hashem could have made bread grow on trees and wine flow in rivers. But such a paradisiacal world would not have been conducive for growth because there would be no work involved. Instead, Hashem gave us grapes and wheat and told us to make something out of it. Similarly, Hashem could have made us all be born with perfect character traits. But what pleasure is there in unearned greatness?
For this reason, at all our significant life events we remind ourselves to continue working with the raw materials Hashem gave us, and to make something out of them. At every bris, wedding, sheva brachos, and even on every Shabbos, we stop to recall that we have a job to do. We have the materials, and with Hashem’s help and our efforts, we can create something truly special.
So here is an 11th thing to do on Shabbos – make Kiddush over a goblet of wine. Let everyone at the table take a sip of the wine to remind himself of our relationship with the Divine. Remember how He gave us the raw materials, and how it’s our job to do something with them to become the best we can be.