Many religions hallow the Sabbath, and we can learn much from how others celebrate and reverence this holy day.
“Shabbat Shalom!” my Jewish friends welcome me each Saturday morning when I attend Torah classes at a local synagogue. The greeting falls easily from their lips, a natural extension of their warm smiles, firm handshakes, and collegial back-pats. However, as these same friends have taught me, a truly peaceful Sabbath is not something that comes about naturally, without thought or effort. A truly peaceful Sabbath must be made.
God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He call Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5, JPS translation)
Consistent with the story of Creation, Jews traditionally see days as beginning in the evening, not at midnight. Consequently, the Sabbath day does not suddenly appear, ready-made, when they wake up in the morning. It must be created, called into being out of existing material, much like the earth. In traditional Jewish homes, the woman of the house, often the mother, begins this process by preparing two special candles, one symbolizing the commandment to remember the Sabbath day (Exo. 20:8) and the other the commandment to keep it and sanctify it (Deut. 5:12). Since these candles also represent a family, with a mother and father, she may also set out other candles for her children.
Several minutes before the sun sets, she gathers her family around the dinner table. She lights the candles, extending her hands over them and drawing their warmth towards her gracefully, three times, in a slow circular motion. Then, covering her eyes, she recites a blessing: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath lights.” At this time, with her eyes still covered, she may add a silent prayer for her children, or for some other person or cause close to her heart. Finally, she uncovers her eyes, looks at the candles, smiles, and wishes everyone in the room a peaceful Sabbath. And so the Sabbath begins, initiated by prayer and placed prominently in the center of things.