Imagine looking forward to Fridays, not only because it’s the start of the weekend, but because you can make challah and light candles to welcome Shabbat. This built-in way to unwind from the week and mark the passing of time can make such an impact on our wellbeing, and it takes a little groundwork to learn how to do the Shabbat candle lighting blessing at home as part of your weekly routine.
Doing these candle lighting blessings for Shabbat is an opportunity to connect with your family and bring a sense of spirituality into your home. These blessings are also given at synagogue and through events in the Jewish community, as well something you can do on your own. You can find guides to Shabbat, including all the blessings from OneTable here.
Before both the Friday evening meal and lunchtime on Saturday, many welcome Shabbat through blessings over the wine. This blessing is called Kiddush in Hebrew. It combines the acknowledgment of God’s role in feeding people with a blessing for Shabbat and remembering creation and liberation. If you’re not comfortable saying the blessing in Hebrew, do not worry! You can recite an English translation of all or part of it.
Many Jews grow up drinking a very sweet wine for Kiddush. Sweet wine isn’t necessary, however. Kosher wine makers have created every variety of wine for those who prefer a good table wine to the sweeter alternative. The same blessing that is used for wine can also be made over grape juice.
The Friday evening Kiddush has three parts: a reading of Genesis 1:31-2:3, a short blessing over the wine itself and a longer sanctification of Shabbat. Some families have the custom of saying the shorter version, which is just the blessing over the wine itself. Others have the custom of saying all three parts. We’ve included both here:
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-gafen.
Blessed is the Oneness that makes us holy. Blessed is the Creator of the fruit of the vine.
Many symbolically clean themselves for evil spirits or in preparation for blessings by washing their hands. Traditionally, this ritual washing is done with a two handled cup. The cup is filled and the water is poured over first one hand and then the cup is held in the wet hand and poured over the other hand. The hands are dried on a towel while reciting the blessing. Traditionally, you may choose to stay silent until the bread is blessed to maintain the “Shabbat mood” of reflection.
For the ritual washing, the blessing is:
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam asher kid’shanu b’mitz’votav
vitz’ivanu al n’ti’lat ya’dai’im.
Blessed art thou, Infinite One, Who makes us holy
through our actions, and honors us as we raise up our hands.
Shabbat is a time to enjoy and wind down from the week—which is why a special braided loaf of egg bread, called challah, is used. In Europe, plain black bread was the daily bread and a loaf made of white flour with eggs was a treat saved for Shabbat. The blessing over the challah or any bread is often called Ha’Motzi, which means “who brings forth” because it acknowledges God bringing forth bread from the earth by giving us the gift of wheat.
There are a lot of small customs associated with performing this blessing. The challah is covered with a decorative cloth when the table is set and it is kept covered until you are ready to bless it. There is a sweet story that maintains that we cover the challah so that it will not be jealous that we blessed the wine first! Some lift the loaf or loaves, others place their hands on the bread while reciting the blessing.
After you’ve made the blessing you can slice or tear the bread into pieces, and distribute it to your guests (some people salt it first). There’s also a custom of throwing a piece of bread to each person at the table. Another, newer custom is for everyone to say the blessing together while touching the loaf, and pull off a piece at the same time. It gets everyone involved in the fun!
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha–olam ha-motz-i lechem min ha’ar-etz.
Blessed is the Oneness that makes us holy and brings forth bread from the earth.
The blessing for the bread covers all the food in your meal.
All these prayers are in every siddur, or prayer book, which will also have traditional songs for the Shabbat table. You can also purchase a bencher (the Yiddish word for a a short booklet containing the Shabbat blessings and songs, often distributed to guests at weddings or bar or bat mitzvahs) from a Jewish bookstore.
Our booklet Shabbat: What to Expect in the Synagogue, Shabbat Made Easy, and Havdalah Made Easy are available for a deeper dive.