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Shabbat Kiddush


The beautiful candlesticks that have been passed down from your grandparents that have been gracing the dining room table for years…The Kiddush cup that was given to your son at his bris that was used again at his wedding….these are two symbols of our Judaism that we treasure.

Two rituals that we have adopted to follow our service, candle-lighting and Kiddush over a cup of wine—initially were performed only in the home, where the Shabbat meal would be eaten.   They were, however, incorporated into the siddur quite early in our history.  The Candle Blessing is found in the ninth century Seder Rav Amram, a very early compendium of services. This is the Babylonian formulation. The wording in the old rite of the land of Israel, known to us through fragmentary prayer books in the Cairo Genizah, is a bit different. 

The Kiddush is found even earlier, in the writings of early A-mo-ra-im who were the first generations of rabbis after the codification of the Mishnah, around 200 CE.  The Kiddush was chanted in synagogue to accommodate those travelers who stayed at the synagogue over the Sabbath.   Our prayerbook, Mishkan T’fillah gives the full traditional text for this beautiful ritual.

The name, kiddush (“sanctification”), is short for kiddush hayom or kedushat hayom (“sanctification of the day”)---it signifies that, through the verbal act of reciting this formula, we mark out the beginning of the sacred day and take upon ourselves those observances and restrictions that make it distinctive and holy.  Only the final paragraph (asher kidshanu b’mitsvotav v’ratsa vanu ) is actually the Kiddush benediction.  The short blessing over wine that precedes it (borei p’ri hagafen) is recited whenever wine is drunk.  Theologically speaking, the Kiddush benediction praises God for having sanctified the Jewish people through the gift of Shabbat (and the sacred calendar).  Shabbat serves as a twofold reminder of God‘s mighty deeds --- the act of Creation and the redemption from Egypt.  Thus, at the very beginning of Shabbat we proclaim its cosmic and historic significance.

The Friday Evening Kiddush has been chanted for centuries and there is a strong musical tradition to sing it in a major key.  The Baer anthology from 1877, presents only one version and it is in major.  Similarly, the nusach is consistently in major as well.  Within that musical parameter there are many versions of this prayer.  However, the version by Louis Lewandowski has become the standard throughout the Ashkenazic world.  Why did that version become so popular?  Though the musicological research has not been executed, we can speculate. Lewandowski was the music director of the important New Synagogue (O-ran-ien-bur-ger-stra-sse) in Berlin.  The Kiddush comes from his Kol Rinnah U’t’fillah which was published in 1871.  Working with his cantor, Abraham Lichtenstein, Lewandowski set the entire liturgy in an easy and accessible manner.  The book inspired an entire generation of cantors who learned to lead services based on Lewandowski’s melodies.  These cantors became pejoratively known as “Kol Rinnah” cantors. Despite this title, the melody spread throughout Germany and also – because it was a time of major migration of German Jews to America – into American synagogues as well. The melody further became influential in Poland, since it was published in Lewandowski’s home in Posen. Thus, the melody spread to Eastern European cantors.  When the Eastern European migration started in the 1880s, these Eastern European Jews also brought the Lewandowski Kiddush to America.  While the authority and reputation of Lewandowski definitely has something to do with the viral nature of this particular Kiddush melody, if the melody hadn’t been so lovely and lyrical, it would not have had the widespread influence it did.

            Although we sing this melody after our Shabbat services, when have we really had the opportunity to study its meaning?  

Praise to you Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe who finding favor with us, sanctified us with mitzvot.  In love and favor, you made the holy Shabbat our heritage as a reminder of the work of creation.  As first among our sacred days, it recalls the exodus from Egypt. You chose us and set us apart from the peoples.  In love and favor you have given us your holy Shabbat as an inheritance.  Praise to you, Adonai, who sanctifies Shabbat.

I do not think the Torah could have anticipated the busied, hurried lives we lead today, but it nonetheless provides an incredible antidote. According to the Torah, after creating the world in 6 days, God rested. We are enjoined to do the same. We refrain from recreating the world on Shabbat and we sit back and enjoy what we have been given. Shabbat teaches us to remember our true essence as "human beings" and to practice the art of simply being. For some of us, this has become difficult. Accustomed as we are to our smart phones, we hardly know how to slow down. Even your children are so busy with soccer practice, violin lessons, and homework that they too lack experience in doing nothing. 

On Shabbat, we let time unfold. There is time to sing and to nap, and to talk without a deadline or goal. There is time to watch an inchworm ease its way up toward the leaf and time to jump in leaf piles. Shabbat enables us to reconnect to ourselves, to one another, and to God, and to appreciate our blessings. 

Although families find all different ways to celebrate Shabbat in ways that are meaningful to them, the important thing is that there is a period of time every week that is just for family. For some families it is 25 hours, for others it is just Friday night.  Tonight, as a community, let us all bask in the comforting rays of the Shabbat candles and the sweet taste of the Shabbat wine.

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