July 18, 2024
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The Peace-Affirming Family Rituals of Shabbos

We will soon read the Torah portion of Yisro and the 10 commandments, among which is “To remember the Shabbos day and keep it holy.” What’s behind the famous quote of the 20th-century journalist Ahad Aham: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath; the Sabbath has kept the Jews”? Perhaps it is related to the fact that family rituals of Shabbos are so grounding and stabilizing for families that they have become staples for countless families today.

Smith-Gabai and Ludwig explain in the Journal of Occupational Science (2011), “Since biblical times, the Jewish Sabbath has been recognized as Judaism’s main unifying ritual that embodies its most basic ideals and values. A day of rest, not for the purpose of regaining strength for the forthcoming week but rather for the sake of life. It nourishes the soul as well as the body, providing opportunities for both physical and spiritual renewal. It also provides a change in orientation by lessening the focus on doing and allowing more time for being. Sabbath values focus on spirituality, respite, relationships, and community promoting a more balanced lifestyle. It continues to have relevance in modern times as it is a counter-balance to the harried pace of modern life with its exposure to incessant stimuli, technological innovations, and our reliance on electronic devices.” Simply stated, the “three R’s” of Sabbath observance are rest, reflection and relationships, which in turn lead to more positive psychological and social behaviors, while diminishing stress and burnout.

Before the sun sets, parents and children gather to contact grandparents, aunts/uncles and siblings via phone or Skype. Each person wishes the other Shabbat Shalom. This ritual of intergenerational communication helps to strengthen family connectivity.

While the family is gathered in the living room before sundown, the charity box is circulated so that each member of the household has the opportunity make a donation. It is a demonstration of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Helping others is the last act of handling money for the subsequent 25 hours.

Candle Lighting

Next is the lighting of the Shabbos candles by the woman of the house. “The Shabbos lights represent Shalom Bayit hence we may make use of their light for the gratification of body and soul” (Eliyahu Kitov, “Jew and His Home,” 1985). A minimum of two candles is lit representing the two biblical references to Shabbos. An additional candle is lit for each member of the nuclear family. After the woman lights candles she takes some time to commune with Hashem to offer personal prayers on behalf of her family.

Some rituals have both a practical explanation and a mystical one. First and foremost, the lighting of candles is to provide illumination for dark homes in years past. Without light, people would bump into each other causing strife, the opposite of peace in the home.

Mystics explain that it was Eve’s additional words that caused the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. God said not to eat from that tree but Eve added that God also said not to touch that tree. Her “adding on” brought death into the world and pain during childbirth. To “repair” that error, Jewish women worldwide add light in their homes with Shabbos candles. Our homes may not need these candles for illumination, but our hearts and souls do. This light is the light of Shalom Bayit (Kitov 1985).

Family members then proceed to the synagogue. The centerpiece of the song-filled prayers is “Lecha Dodi,” literally translated as “welcome my beloved,” i.e., the Shabbos Queen. The final stanza invites the Queen to “come with rejoicing, with song and peace.”

Upon arrival at home, family members join together in song to welcome the Shabbos angels who accompanied the group as they returned from the synagogue. The song begins with “Shalom Aleichem,” peace unto you. All participants then sing a song of praise for the woman of valor. The song honors the one individual without whose nurturing, love and unending vitality this family would not exist. Taken from the book of proverbs, it is believed that the patriarch Abraham first sang these words to his wife, the matriarch Sarah.

Generational Continuity: Blessing the Children

Parents then bless their children individually with the laying of hands on the head of each child. Their hearts now fill with blessing and peace in the light of Shabbos.

The laying of parental hands on the child’s head is the same physical act as the rabbinic ordination ceremony. Similar to the smicha ceremony, which ensured that the rabbinic student will be the next link in the Sinaitic tradition, the parental blessing is meant to ensure the transmission of values and rituals from generation to generation. The blessing concludes with, “God should establish peace for you.” Imagine a moving multi-generational Shabbos meal, when the grandparents begin by blessing their adult children, followed by those children turning to their own young children and giving blessings to each of them.

The Festive Meal

Kiddush is recited over an overflowing cup of wine; this meal is traditionally the best meal of the week. Guests are invited as part of the universal message of Shabbos. Parents are role models of hospitality for their children to observe as a reminder of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Our homes are shared, not only with those less fortunate on a materialistic level, but also those less fortunate on a spiritual level.

The first delicious morsels of food are the two challah loaves. This ritual is a visual reenactment of the double portion of manna-bread that fell from the sky in the desert on Fridays but not on Shabbos. The blessing that is recited reminds us that bread comes from the land. It reminds us that we must respect our planet and its fragile environment if we desire future generations to be able to partake in these rituals.

As the lavish multi-course meal is served, singing, dancing, and lively Torah-related discussions take place. Children who participate in these discussions know they have the full attention of their parents, siblings and guests because there is no electronic interruption at this meal. After dessert, family members join together in singing the grace after meals, which concludes with “God will bless His people with Shalom.”


Dr. Alan Singer has been a marriage therapist in New Jersey and New York since 1980. He has an 80% success rate in saving marriages of couples on the brink of divorce. He counsels via Skype, blogs at FamilyThinking.com and authored the book, “Creating Your Perfect Family Size” (Wiley). His mantra: “I am the last person in the room to give up on your marriage.” Married for 42 years, he and his wife are the parents of four grown children. He was a presenter at the first NARME conference and the Nefesh International Conferences of 2018-19. He serves on the National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists. He can be reached at [email protected] or 732-572-2707.

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