Shabbat was an experience unlike anything in America.
by rebecca little, lower elementary principal
“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”
Recently, I learned about the Jewish custom of a Shabbat meal from the book Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. Mogel is a clinical psychologist who shares many Jewish teachings, customs, and Old Testament biblical truths that give wonderful insight and wisdom in raising and blessing our children.
The Shabbat meal is one ritual to which her family remains committed on a weekly basis. Shabbat, or Sabbath, is the centerpiece of Jewish life that begins at sunset on Friday and continues for 24 hours. It is a day of rest and celebration, like our Sundays. She explains that each member of the family has a part in contributing to the preparation of the Shabbat meal. Whether helping prepare the food, setting the table, picking flowers from the yard for the table – it is a family affair. At the table blessings are given to those around the table and to God. The evening is not like other evenings. The children know that Friday nights are different and are reserved for the Shabbat meal. How special this time is for the Jewish family.
A Traditional ShABBAT MEAL
My son recently returned from Israel where he experienced a traditional Shabbat meal. Here is his reflection of that experience:
"Shabbat Shalom," we said as we entered the home of the Jewish family who kind enough to have our group join them for their traditional Shabbat meal. Shabbat Shalom is a common greeting in the Jewish community meaning “peace on your Sabbath.” When our group entered the Jewish household, we were given a warm welcome by the entire family and shown to our seats. The family explained the history behind the practices during the Shabbat meal and their significance in Judaism. The mother prayed in Hebrew over her daughter, blessing her and giving thanks to the Father for the gift of her daughter. Then the father prayed in Hebrew over his sons, blessing them and giving thanks for the gift they have been in their family. Then the father of the household sang a song of thanksgiving in Hebrew over his wife, thanking her for her patience, wisdom, love, and care for the family. Next, the mother sang a song of thanksgiving for the food in Hebrew.
Seeing these interactions in the family had a great impact on me. It showed the values being upheld every Friday as the family gathered, rekindling relationships within the family and building up a stronger family bond. Individually, each of us were asked to do a ceremonial hand washing before eating while the father and mother prayed over each of us in Hebrew. We then broke handmade bread and began our meal with bread and wine. Later we were served soup, fish, and then a dessert. It was a wonderful experience that was even more interesting when you consider that Jesus, our Savior, would participate in similar practices growing up.
Shabbat was an experience unlike anything in America. There are hardly any cars driving. All shops are closed, and it is hard to spot someone walking down the street. It's as if Jerusalem becomes an inoperable city for 24 hours. The Sabbath is well respected and honored among the Jewish community, and this practice made me think more about my personal practice of the Sabbath and God's command to keep it holy. It was so unique to experience this rich history in the Holy Land where Jesus fulfilled his ministry.
I think back to my childhood and how our Sunday lunches were somewhat like a Shabbat meal. We would almost always have a nice lunch together around the table after church. Our Sundays were different than the other days of the week. In today’s culture, traditions are not as valued as they once were. As I’m hearing from my son and looking back on my childhood, I realize those types of traditions leave an impression and can be a blessing.
Encouragement for Your Family
I want to encourage all of us to make it a priority to gather together on the Lord’s Day as a family and break bread together. Bless your children and your spouse with words of encouragement and prayers. I’m certain that God will honor the time, families will build stronger bonds, and souls will be renewed.