of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali


242: To be careful about honouring Shabbat (recap)

Even someone who is dependent on others [for their sustenance], should force himself to honour Shabbat [with extra food] if he has some small amount [of his own resources]. They only said "Make your Shabbat a weekday and do not become dependent on others" regarding someone who is in dire [economic] straits. For this reason one should economize during the rest of the week in order to honour Shabbat. It is an rule laid down by Ezra that laundry should be done on Thursdays in honour of Shabbat. Note: It is customary to knead [dough] in the home in sufficient amount to require Ĥallah to be taken [from it] and to make from it loaves for breaking bread on Shabbat or YomTov; this is part of honouring Shabbat and YomTov and the custom should not be changed. Some [authorities] have written that in a few places they have the custom on Friday night of eating a dish called 'pashtidah' in commemoration of the manna which was covered above and below.

EXPLANATIONS (continued):

The special nature of Shabbat is created, to some extent, by a sense of anticipation. We can all remember how, when we were children, time seemed to drag before a birthday or special holiday: we so much wanted the day to come that the expectation had created in us a childish impatience. Even as adults - or perhaps especially because we are adults - the tradition tries to inculcate into us a similiar 'impatience of expectation' concerning the advent of Shabbat.

The very way in which we label the days of the week points toward Shabbat. Other cultures give each fo the days of the week its own name, derived in some manner or other from a pagen past. For example, cultures that derive from the old Anglo-Saxons name the first day of the week for the sun god, the second day of the week is named for the moon god, the fifth day of the week is named for the god Thor, the sixth day of the week is named for the godess Freya; cultures that derive from the old Latin culture name the third day of the week for the pagan god of war Mars, the fourth day of the week for the messenger of the pagan gods, Mercury, and the seventh day of the week for the ancient god Saturn - and so forth. In the Jewish tradition only one day of the week has a name: the seventh day is called 'Shabbat'; all the others are just given a number that points towards that special day: First day, Second Day - and so on. (In early rabbinic parlance even greater expectation was created by naming Friday as 'the day before Shabbat' - Erev Shabbat; strictly speaking applying that Hebrew terminology to Friday night when Shabbat has already begun is a misnomer; the correct term in Hebrew is Leyl Shabbat.)

The creation of the special Shabbat atmosphere costs money. It does not have to cost a lot of money, but it does cost some money. The sages insist that part of the 'magic' of Shabbat is the fact that every Jew sits down to three substantial meals in celebration of this 'day of delight' [Isaiah 58:13]. On all other days only two meals were customary. Financial assistance was given to the needy every Friday morning and each mendicant was given the means to acquire three meals for Shabbat. In the Gemara, however [Shabbat 118a, Pesaĥim 112a], Rabbi Akiva is quoted as advising the poverty stricken to "make your Shabbat a weekday and do not become dependent on others". Rabbi Akiva had the personal experience of what it meant to live in direst poverty. But the Tosafists [Betzah 15b] comment that his advice applies only to people who, like Rabbi Akiva in the poverty-stricken period of his life, are in such dire straits that they have nothing at all, nothing that they can even offer as colateral for a modest loan.

Even those who had the means 'to make Shabbat' were encouraged to spend more lavishly than they normally would. Indeed, in the Gemara [Betzah 15b] we find a most uncharacteristic 'devil-may-care' approach in this regard:

Rabbi Yoĥanan reports Rabbi Eli'ezer ben Shim'on as saying: God says to Israel, 'My children, borrow from Me and sanctify the holy day; trust Me to foot the bill'.

Thus even people who had but meagre resources at their disposal were encouraged to throw caution to the wind and spend in a prodigal fashion in order to 'make Shabbat'. This recommendation is based on the belief, enunciated in Betzah 15a, that

a person's expenses for food are decided between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur [for the coming year] with the exception of expenses for Shabbat, YomTov and Torah education of the children.

These latter will depend on the person's own generosity - the more they venture the more will be provided, as it were; the less they venture the less will be provided. In all probability, this almost reckless attitude towards the economics of Shabbat must be derived from the words of the prophet [Isaiah 58:13-14] which we read on Yom Kippur:

If you refrian from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your [mundane] affairs on My holy day; if you call the sabbath "delight", God's holy day "honoured"; and if you honour it and go not your ways nor look to yours affairs, nor strike bargains - then you can seek God's favour. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob - for the mouth of God has spoken.

The anticipatory excitement leading up to Shabbat begins almost at the beginning of the week. It is related [Betzah 16a] of the great Sage Shammai that

throughout his life he would eat in honour of Shabbat. Whenever he came across a fulsome piece of meat he would [set it aside and] say, "This is for Shabbat". If [later in the week] he found something even better he would set aside [for Shabbat] the second item and eat the first [right away].

However, in the very same place we find that Shammai's even more illustrious colleague, Hillel, would not act thus, but would 'make Shabbat' from whatever 'the Lord provided' when the time came. Doubtless, this difference derives from the economic situation of the two sages: Shammai came from the more wealthy 'landed gentry', while Hillel was a townsman who lived within the parameters of economic constraint.

In section 242 Rabbi Karo notes an ancient ruling concerning laundry. This ruling is to be found in the Gemara [Bava Kamma 82a] among a whole slew of regulations all of which are deemed to have be instituted by Ezra (5th century BCE). In days when all the clothes that ordinary people wore were kept clean by hand washing the rule was that the household laundry was to be done on Thursdays. This was to ensure that Friday would be kept free for the more essential preparations for Shabbat. Shabbat is 'different' not only in the meals that we take but also in the clothes we wear: in eastern Europe in the halcyon days before the holocaust almost everybody had special clothes that were worn only on Shabbat - 'Shabbat best'.

The note about doing one's laundry on Thursdays brings to an end the original section as composed by Yosef Karo concerning things done 'in honour of Shabbat'. However, his Ashkenazi annotator, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, adds a further note concerning the baking of ĥallot for Shabbat. Two loaves (ĥallot) are needed for the grace before each of the three Shabbat meals, and almost until modern times the baking of these loaves at home was always considered a major preparatory task. Nowadays it is quite easy to buy a ĥallah ready baked, but those who wish to really enjoy the anticipation that leads to Shabbat will bake their own. When one kneads dough that contains 1250 cc's of flour (1¼ kilos or 2¾ lbs) Ĥallah must be taken: this involves taking a small piece of the dough, baking it in the oven and then discarding it. (Originally this separated ĥallah was given to a kohen, a person of priestly stock, but this is no longer done and the separated dough is thrown away, as noted.) In the mishnah [Shabbat 2:6] the separation of ĥallah is noted as being one of the mitzvot especially associated with women.

One last note added by Isserles concerns a custom that was prevalent in some parts on Friday night of eating a dish called pashtidah 'in commemoration of the manna which was covered above and below'. It seems that this was some kind of dish that was like a pie with a crust of dough on top and underneath with some special filling - probably meat. (The Torah [Numbers 11:9] describes the manna that fell in the desert as being covered with dew, and the manna was associated with Shabbat insofar as on Fridays a double amount was to be collected [Exodus 16:29].

From such humble beginnings great customs grow.) One gets a very good impression of the way in which customs come and go just by looking at the comments on this one custom. Karo omitted it entirely; it seems to have first been noted by Rabbi Jacob Möllin in central Europe in the 14th century; Isserles, in eastern Europe in the 16th century, says that he sees no reason to observe this culinary custom; yet another authority, Kenesset ha-Gedolah in 17th century says that "in our country we do eat it". To no small extent the 'magic' of Shabbat is woven by the special dishes that we associate with the holy day.


In Shabbat 001 I wrote: The incidence of Shabbat is not, as it were, determined by man but by God in an everlasting, unbroken cycle. Dan Werlin comments:

Very true! But it should also be noted that, traditionally, the Shabbat of Creation is not considered to be first Shabbat in our sequence of Shabbatot. We can only trace Shabbat back to the first Shabbat instituted in the midbar [desert - SR]. But if you continue counting back by sevens to the week of Creation, you don't land on the Seventh Day. Similarly, although on Rosh Hashanah we say hayom harat olam ["today is the birthday of the world" - SR], the molad of Tishrei is considered to have happened six or so months before Creation (depending on who you ask).

I respond:

I do not know on what source Dan is basing himself in his comment on Shabbat. According to the calculations which at present form the basis of our calendar the universe came into being at the fictional time of Sunday, 1st Tishri, at 11:11 and 20 seconds pm in the year 1 (which is already Monday in the Jewish calendar). The days have been running thus ever since. We discussed this when we studied Tractate Rosh ha-Shanah. See also this discussion.