Shabbat Prayer Guide: Around the Friday Night Table – The Shabbat Project

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Friday night

“We leave our inhibitions at the door and embrace the opportunity to gather around the Shabbat table and sing our hearts out.”

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Shabbat Friday Night

We sing Shalom Aleichem, which gives us an opportunity to step outside of ourselves and view our own lives, our families, our homes through the eyes of angels. In this song, we greet the Shabbat angels who, according to the Talmud, join us every Shabbat. We welcome them into our homes as they take in the flickering candles, a table set for Shabbat, a festive meal carefully prepared, family and friends gathered around. We absorb the preciousness of the moment. Finally, we bless the angels and bid them farewell, and prepare to embrace our Shabbat experience.

"Eishet Chayil is an invitation to be remarkable: to join the sorority of Jewish women throughout the ages who have built our great nation."

- Adina Bankier-Karp

We sing Eishet Chayil, which refers to the “woman of valor” – King Solomon’s profound and enigmatic song that also alludes to the Shechinah (G-d’s Divine presence), Shabbat, the Torah, wisdom and the soul. The Jewish woman is chosen as the prism through which to view these lofty spiritual concepts.

Print your copies of Shalom Aleichem, Eishet Chayil and more, included in our easy-to-follow Shabbat companion.

Washing hands

Blessing the children

“Stopping to bless our children once a week makes us pause to appreciate how blessed we are to have them in the first place and reminds them of the love we feel for them.”
– Senator Joe Lieberman

Shabbat prayer for children

Blessings are not only given in shul. They are not only given by rabbis or kohanim. In fact, we all have the power to give blessings. And what could be more powerful than parents blessing their own children in their home.

Beginning our Shabbat journey by focusing on each of our children individually serves as a gentle reminder that Shabbat is a family experience. Parents devote a moment of undivided attention, of quiet intentionality, to each child. These are the moments that affirm lives. These are the moments that build families.

We bless our children individually just like Jacob did for his children and grandchildren. We teach our children the importance of gratitude and connection. No matter how hard the week has been, we acknowledge each child’s uniqueness and express our fervent wishes for them. 

Print your copy of the Shabbat prayer for children.

What blessings do our children need?

Take this opportunity to personalize a blessing for each child, after you have said the traditional prayer. You can compliment them if they were kind to someone during the previous week, or for remembering to speak respectfully to you. Or throw in a fun saying to motivate them for the week ahead. Their ears will prick up when they hear your whispers especially for them. Here are some ideas to get you started:

-  Do the right thing, even when no one is looking.
-  If you can imagine it, you can do it.
-  Be the best friend you can be.
-  Be honest. Be kind. Be positive.
-  Be the type of person you want to meet.
-  Make mistakes! That’s how you learn.
-  Learn from all the people you meet and the places you go.
-  Focus on what goes right every day.
-  You will feel so full when you are grateful, respectful and joyful.

    “As I bless each child, I think of their strengths and their weaknesses. I think about everything that I want for them as they continue to grow. Among the chaos of the week, this is our uninterrupted moment to share in, completely.”
    – Rabbi Dovid Cohen

    Friday Night Kiddush

    Kiddush is about our partnership with G-d. He created Shabbat, but through our words, and over a cup of wine, we sanctify it. The Hebrew word Kiddush means ‘making holy’ or ‘sanctification’, which, in turn, denotes separation. Without Shabbat there is nothing to separate one day from another. Through Kiddush, we declare the holiness of the day and thank G‑d for having chosen our nation to be the ones who sanctify the holy Shabbat.

    We fill a wine glass with wine (or grape juice) and recite the blessing. It’s a great time for adults to indulge in a velvety glass of the finest kosher red, and the kids can’t wait to get their hands on a cup of super-sweet grape juice.

    We fulfil this sacred duty every Friday night as we gather around our Shabbat tables and recite the ancient words of the Kiddush prayer – in which we declare that G-d created the world and freed us from Egypt.

    Print your copy of the Friday Night Kiddush prayer, included in our easy-to-follow Shabbat companion.

    Once Kiddush is made, we pass around the wine for everyone at the table to sip.

    Why do we eat challah on Shabbat?

    Step 5 Challah Side View

    Wherever you go in the world, come Friday and you’ll be sure to find the local version of challah. Whether you’re buying jalá in Spain, pain de chabbat in France or pão chalá in Portugal – the heavenly braided bread that's crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside is so good that it’s a religious experience all of its own.

    It is customary to have two loaves (large ones or challah rolls) at the table for each meal to remind us of the double portion of manna (heavenly bread) we received in the desert on a Friday, which would sustain us throughout Shabbat.

    We wash our hands and say the blessing on two challahs each Shabbat meal. Then cut or break the bread, dip it in salt and pass it around for everyone to have a piece. As it hits your mouth, imagine the taste of the manna that came directly from G-d so many years ago.

    Eat and enjoy

    We bless G-d for the bread to recognise and acknowledge the true source of the food and sustenance in our lives.

    We refrain from speaking between the time we wash our hands until we take our first bite of bread. This is probably the only time the room won’t be filled with conversation, laughter, stories and song. (And, despite the tumult, there’s almost always someone who struggles to stay awake till the end of the meal!)

    The blessing of Hamotzi and first bite of bread officially kicks off the meal! Now is our time to connect and celebrate Shabbat. And it’s such a versatile opportunity – it’s the perfect setting for an intimate family meal or a large gathering of friends and soon-to-be-friends. Some people sing Shabbat songs, some share inspiring stories or words of Torah.

    Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals)

    Gratitude is a basic part of Jewish life. So when we are done eating, we say Birkat Hamazon, thanking G-d for the incredible sustenance He’s provided us with, and continues to provide us with, always. We can sing along together or quietly say the words to ourselves.

    We say Birkat Hamazon after any meal that includes bread. It consists of four blessings that speak to our appreciation for the food G-d gives us, the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and the abundance of goodness that we receive from G-d in general.

    Print your copy of Birkat Hamazon, included in our easy-to-follow Shabbat companion.

    After the meal, some sit around the table chatting for ages, while others rush to bed to enjoy an early night. It’s a great time to play board games (the kinds that don’t entail writing), read a book or go for a walk. Finally, with no Instagram to check, emails to answer or series to catch up on, climb into bed and let a well-deserved Shabbat sleep take over.