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An Additional Note on the Kiddush Ritual: An Excerpt from The Thirteen Petalled Rose By Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

(Note: The Sefirot concept utilized here is explained in full in Chapter Two of The Thirteen Petalled Rose. Click here to read an excerpt that explains the basic idea of sefirot.)

The eve of the Sabbath does not only usher in the day of rest; it has its own particular aspect and significance. Every hour of the preceding afternoon marks another level of an emotionally peaked transition from the six working days of week to the Sabbath day. The evening before the holy day is therefore itself a climax and a final stage of the transition, to all that the day means, both as a conclusion of the week and as a higher level of existence, beyond the six days of action, beyond time.

This higher level of the Sabbath is bound up with the divine manifestation in the Sefirah of Malkhut ("kingdom"), which represents the Shekhinah and also the totality, the receptacle that absorbs all that occurs, and is also connected with the first Sefirah, the Crown. Therefore the quality of Sabbath Eve, which is the summing up of work and the events in time, can also be preparation for the manifestation of the Sabbath as the crown and beginning of time. The Sefirah of Malkhut, or the Shekhinah, represents the divine power as manifested in reality, operating in an infinite variety of ways and means. It has seventy names, each expressing another aspect, another face of this all inclusive Sefirah. For Malkhut is the seventh of the lower Sefirot and, as the last, also includes in itself the entire ten; in other words, it expresses all of the Sefirot, each in seven different forms; so that seventy is the key number to the unfolding of the ritual of the evening devoted to Malkhut and to the Shekhinah which Malkhut represents.

What is equivalent in all the manifestations of the Shekhinah is that each represents a certain aspect of the feminine. Consequently the symbols and the contents of Sabbath Eve are always oriented to the female, with emphasis on the woman in her universal aspect as well as in terms of the Jewish family.

On entering a home on the eve of the Sabbath, one may see how a dwelling is made into a sanctuary. The table on which are set the white loaves of Sabbath bread and the burning candles recall the Holy Temple with its menorah and its shew bread. The table itself is, as always, a reminder of the altar in the Temple, for eating could and should become and act of sacrifice. In other words, the relation between man and the food he consumes, as expressed in the intention behind the eating of the food, corresponds to the cosmic connection between the material and the spiritual as expressed by every sacrifice on an altar. Especially is this true on the Sabbath, when the Sabbath feast takes on the character of a sacramental act, a sort of communion, in the performance of the mitzvah of union of the soul, the body, the food, and the essence of holiness. Therefore at mealtimes the table always has on it a salt container, just as salt had to be on the holy altar as a sign of the covenant of salt. The candles lit by the woman of the house emphasize the light of the Sabbath, the sanctification of the day, and the special task of the woman as representative of Shekhinah of Malkhut. There are two loaves of special white bread, called challah (some houses have twelve challot), covered with a cloth; these also recall the bread from heaven, the manna, which on the Sabbath day came down in double portions covered with a layer of dew.

As part of the preparations for the Kiddush ("consecration") ceremony, the members of the household sing or recite the song of praise for the "woman of valor" (Proverbs 31:10-31). The song, with its appreciation for the woman, the mother, the housekeeper, has on this Sabbath eve a double connotation, as praise for the lady of the house and as glorification of the Shekhinah of Malkhut who is, in a sense, the mother, the housekeeper of the real world. Following this is the Twenty-third Psalm, expressing the calm trust in God. And one is ready for the Kiddush ceremony itself.

In terms of Halakhah, the Kiddush is the carrying out of the fourth of the Ten Commandments: "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." At the very beginning of the Sabbath there has to be some act of separation, of consecration, emphasizing the difference between the work days of the week and the holy day and enabling the soul to move into a state of inner tranquility and spiritual receptiveness. To be sure, the words of the consecration are also said at the time of evening prayer and on other occasions; but in Judaism there is a general principle that, to as great an extent possible, abstract events or processes and all that pertains to them are bound up with specifics and definite actions. Thus Kiddush consecration is connected with the drinking of wine, which, in turn, is associated with the Sabbath wine sacrifices of the Holy Temple.

The Kiddush cup symbolizes the vessel through which, and into which, the blessing comes. The numerical weight of the letters in the word for drinking cup (kos) is the same as that of the letter in that name of God expressing the divine revelation in the world, in nature, in law. And into the cup is poured the bounty, the wine that represents the power of the blessing of the word "wine," whose numerical equivalent is seventy, which is also the number of Sabbath Eve. Wine then evokes the bounty, the great plentitude and power; and red wine especially expresses a certain aspect of the Sefirah of Gevurah, which also has an aspect of severity and justice. Thus after one has poured most of the wine into the cup, a little water, symbol of grace and love, is added to create the right mixture, or harmony, between Hesed and Gevurah. After the filling of the cup, which is now the vessel of consecration containing the divine plenty, one places it on the palm of the right hand in such a way that the cup, supported by the upturned fingers, resembles or recalls a rose of five petals. For one of the symbols of Malkhut is the rose. And the cup of wine, thus expressing also the Shekhinah, stands in the center of the palm and is held by the petal fingers of the rose. The time has come for the recitation of the Kiddush prayer itself.

The Kiddush is composed of two parts. It begins with that part of the Torah (Genesis 2:1-3) where the Sabbath is first mentioned, and then proceeds to the second half which is a prayer composed by the sages especially for the Kiddush and in which the various meanings of the Sabbath are poetically and precisely stated. Between the two parts there is the blessing of the vine, or fruit of the grape. In each of these two parts there are exactly thirty-five words, together making seventy, the number of the Eve of the Sabbath. Before reciting the first words from the Torah, two words are added-the last words of the preceding verse: "the sixth day"-because they fit in with the recitation, "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished?" and because the first letters of these words form the abbreviation of the Holy Name. In this first sections the Sabbath is treated as the day of summation and cessation of Created, as God's day of rest.

The second section, selected and determined by the sages, expresses the other side of the Sabbath, the imitation of God by Israel. Before the blessing of the wine, there are the two words in Aramaic telling those present to get ready for the blessing. The following words of the Kiddush express the primary elements of the Sabbath and the special relation between Sabbath and the nation. There is the first declaration "Blessed Art Thou?by whose commandments we are sanctified," which is to say that the mitzvah is a way of reaching a level of holiness, a way to God. After this the prayer speaks of the chosenness of Israel, as a consequence of which Israel, more than all other nations, has to assume the task of carrying on the act of Creation and its aftermath of rest and holiness. Mention is then made of the exodus from Egypt, as in the version of The Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy (5:15), where the Sabbath, proclaimed as the day of rest from work, recollects the time of slavery in Egypt and likens the Sabbath to the divine act of release from bondage and the bestowal of salvation. So that Sabbath is also the weekly day of freedom, celebrating the release and the exodus from Egypt, as well as the concept of salvation which, as the ultimate in time, is the Sabbath of the world.

And out of this emphasis on divine choice and love and out of the need to understand man's obligation to God to continue and to create unto the Sabbath rest, the Kiddush prayer concludes with the relation of the Jewish people to the Sabbath and thus closes the circle of the relation between God and man. After the recital of the Kiddush the one who has performed the ceremony himself drinks from the cup, thereby participating in that communion of the physical with the spiritual which is the essence of all ritual. And from the same cup drink all those gathered at the table. In this way everyone participates in the meaningful act of introducing the Sabbath, represented by the flowering of the rose, which is the cup of redemption of the individual and of the nation and of the world as a whole.