Friday night Kiddush | Aleph Beta

Kiddush Part 1

Friday night Kiddush


Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

In the first of this two-part playlist Rabbi Fohrman discusses the mitzvah of sanctifying Shabbat over the Friday night Kiddush, and takes a look at how to sanctify shabbat with "Shamor" and "Zachor."



Hey folks, this is Rabbi David Fohrman. I want to share with you something that I just came up with and discovered. It seems to be an obvious thing, but sort of mysterious at the same time. I wanted to share it with you, see what you thought about it. Feel free to contact me with your thoughts.

Rabbi David Fohrman: This is a finding in Kiddush. Friday night, we recite Kiddush, a blessing over the wine. With that, we usher in the Sabbath. Actually, according to the Torah, we are meant to do two things with the Sabbath. Those two things are described as "Zachor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho," [Ex. 20:7] and "Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho," [Deut. 5:11] depending upon which version of the Ten Commandments you're reading, the Exodus version or the Deuteronomy version.

This translates into, observe the Sabbath and keep it holy, if you have "Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho." The other one, "Zachor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho," is a little bit of a trickier word to translate. It can either mean remember, or it could possibly mean mention. Zachor can have both meanings.

This leads, in Rabbinic parlance, to two different ways that we can bring the Sabbath into the world. In other words, that we can change the Sabbath day and make it something other than a regular day. We can actually bring its holiness into the world. We can actually change this day in time from a mundane day into a holy day.

So how is it that we're mekadeish the Sabbath? Mekadeish, the verb 'to sanctify', is an active verb. We're changing this from a mundane day into a regular day. One way to do it is "Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho," we can observe the Sabbath, we can keep the Sabbath holy. We do that by not doing melachah on this day, by refraining from building and creating in any kind of way. There's sort of an irony in that because by refraining from building and creating, we actually create something just by doing that. We are being mekadeish the Sabbath. We are sanctifying the Sabbath day. We're actually making a change in time on our calendar and making the Sabbath day different.

When we build in space, we do that by being creative physically. When we refrain from doing that in space, we actually end up creating in time. That is "Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho," keep the Sabbath holy by not doing creative labor on the Sabbath.

There's another way to bring the Sabbath into the world, and it has nothing to do with refraining, it has to do with actually doing something. We can actually do something. What do we do? What we do is "Zachor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho." I mentioned that zachor is one of those funny words that can actually have two meanings to it. It can mean to mention, and it can mean to remember.

I think both of those meanings are significant and interesting here. What if we thought of zachor in terms of 'remember', remember the Sabbath to keep it holy? What would that mean? What that would suggest to me is that there's some sort of memory we all have, some sort of communal memory, some sort of instinctual memory that's deep in our hearts that we can get back to, just as our being human beings, there's a Sabbath that we can remember.

If you think about that Sabbath we can remember, that would probably be the original Sabbath that we would have experienced as human beings just after being created. Humanity was created on the sixth day of Creation. The very next day was the Sabbath. That very first primal Sabbath is described as a Sabbath that is not disclosed to man. It's a Sabbath that we hear about as the readers of the Torah, but Adam and Eve weren't aware of that Sabbath. It happened without them being consciously aware of it.

Nevertheless, they experienced it. However, they didn't experience it as their Sabbath, the way we experience the Sabbath once every seven days as a human Sabbath. What they experienced was actually a divine Sabbath. Who was the rester during that time? Human beings weren't resting; they had no melachah. They themselves had just been created. The one who was resting, in that case, was the Divine Being Himself. God was resting. That's what we hear about in the story of Creation.

Indeed, that Sabbath seems to be this really paradigmatic event, in a mysterious kind of way. You may be aware that the Creation story breaks up into two. We have Creation in Genesis 1 and we have Creation in Genesis 2. Genesis 2 seems to be a retelling of the story. One of the ways that you could understand the Genesis 2 retelling of the story is that in Genesis 1, Creation leads up to the Sabbath. There's creation during six days, culminating in the Sabbath. Creation 2, though, doesn't take place over six days. It actually takes place in one day, according to the text. "Eileh toldot hashamayim v'ha'aretz b'hibar'am b'yom asot Hashem Elokim eretz v'shamayim," [Gen. 2:4] these are the generations of the heaven and the earth in the day of God's creating them. In the day, singular, of God's creating them. Everything else seems to unfold within a day in Creation 2.

It's almost as if it's two versions of the same story. There's a version of the story in which Sabbath is the culmination of Creation, in which nothing is created, and there's another strange version of the Sabbath in which somehow, from another point of view, you could look at all of creation taking place on one day. Which day? I would argue that day is actually the Sabbath, strangely enough.

The reason why you can view it that way is because the Sabbath is really God's place in time. It's the place that God retreats to after He creates the world. But in some kind of mysterious way, the Sabbath that God retreats to is some sort of timeless place within time. It's His day, it's His everlasting day. In the words of the Rabbis, it's a "Yom shekulo Shabbat." [M. Tamid 7:4] So viewed in that way, there's a way of viewing Creation in which, viewed from human perspective, sure, time is happening in the universe. There's Day 1, there's Day 2, there's Day 3. From God's perspective, however, where is God in God's own world? God is in God's Sabbath. There's something about God's own Sabbath that allows you to view God as being ensconced in His own Sabbath, and the Creation just unfolding in the world. From God's viewpoint, He's in His own Sabbath. It's all the "Eileh toldot hashamayim v'ha'aretz b'hibar'am b'yom asot Hashem Elokim eretz v'shamayim."

In any case, the point of all of that is that this original primal, mysterious Sabbath that God experiences is actually not something that only He experiences, even though He's the one who rests on that Sabbath. We experience it along with Him. All of humanity, in the persona of Adam and Eve -- they were, after all, all of the humanity. Somehow, we have that memory imprinted on our souls from that first Sabbath.

The way that we can mimic that Divine Sabbath, the way that we can bring that Divine Sabbath of something He experienced in His own time into this world, is actually through memory, by accessing our memories. We're very still. We can remember. We can remember our very first experience as human beings. What did we experience? We experienced that Divine Sabbath. When God rested, we were participants. We were spectators in the gallery. If we can remember that and we can touch that memory, that's what we call upon as a touchstone to be mekadeish our Sabbath in this world. When we're mekadeish our Sabbath, when we sanctify our Sabbath, we're building upon our memories. We're using our memory as a touchstone, which brings a little taste of God's Sabbath into our world of time, which becomes our Sabbath every seven days.

How do we express that? I would tie together the two meanings of zachor, mention or articulate as meaning number one and remember as meaning number two. How do you remember? It's not just a cognitive thing; it's an articulation thing. Mention, speak about the Sabbath and keep it holy. What Sabbath do we speak about? What we actually do to sanctify the Sabbath is we speak about God's Sabbath, we speak about the primal Sabbath of God, and in that way, we sanctify our Sabbath.

Remember, there is God's Sabbath and our Sabbath. God's Sabbath doesn't take place every seven days. God's Sabbath took place on the seventh day of Creation, a day which one could argue God is still in. Where is God now, in the ninth day? In the tenth day? In the millionth day? God's in the seventh day. That's the last day we heard of. That's God's place in the world of time. It's a place where God is beyond space and time, in His own numinous Sabbath. That's a Divine Sabbath that we don't really have access to anymore.

We mimic that, in our world of time that unfolds here in this world, every seventh day. Somehow, if we can ensconce ourselves in our every seventh day, we can sort of touch the horizon of God's seventh day and share some time with Him a little bit, Him in His world and we in ours.

Again, there are two ways to be mekadeish the Sabbath. One is we build the Sabbath by not building; that's "Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho." There's also a way to be mekadeish Shabbat through memory. How do we activate our memory of the original primal Sabbath? By talking about it and by mentioning it. Those are the two dual meanings of "Zachor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho."

How do we fulfill "Zachor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho?" Interestingly enough, we fulfill it through a device we call Kiddush on Friday night. Now we understand the idea behind Kiddush. What are we doing with Kiddush? We're not just doing something nice. We're not just making a blessing over wine. We're not just making a blessing over the wine and mentioning Shabbat because that's a nice thing to do. We're actually being mekadeish the Sabbath. We're actually doing something which is a vehicle for bringing the kedushah, the holiness, of Sabbath into the world. We're changing the day. Why? Through our memories. Through our memories that have come up into articulation.

What do we articulate? We go back. What verses do we read as part of Kiddush? "Vayechulu hashamayim v'ha'aretz v'chol tzeva'am," [Gen. 2:1] we read the verses of the original Sabbath, of God's original Sabbath. That is how we bring our Sabbath into the world.

It seems to me that in that dichotomy and that understanding of "Zachor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho," we actually find an answer to a very pesky little question regarding the way Kiddush works. It's the question of, what are we really doing with Kiddush? If we are sanctifying the day, as the Rabbis understand it, that we are being mekadeish the Sabbath, then there's a paradox in the language of Kiddush itself. On the one hand, we begin with this notion that "Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu melech ha'olam asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'ratzah vanu," that God has been mekadeish us and made us holy through His mitzvoth, and God has given us His Sabbbath, "V'Shabbat kodsho b'ahavah u'veratzon hinchilanu," there's a Sabbath that God has that He's vested in us.

That seems to be this idea that God had this Sabbath, and then He has given it over to us to actually create on our own. That becomes this notion of us being mekadeish the Sabbath. Yet, on the other hand, at the very end of Kiddush, we say "Baruch atah Hashem mekadeish hashabbat." Blessed are You, God, who is the sanctifier of the Sabbath. So who really is the sanctifier of the Sabbath? Is it God or is it us?

I think the answer is, it depends. God sanctified the very first Sabbath. God's Sabbath came about through Him resting. Then what he said is, I'm giving you a Sabbath as well. You can draw upon My Sabbath to sanctify yours. You can mention, you can talk about your memories of that Sabbath you experienced that I was mekadeish, that I sanctified. Draw upon that and bring some of that into this world, and you be mekadeish the Sabbath. You sanctify the Sabbath by bringing that into your world of time.

Hence, Kiddush becomes an active process. What we're doing by remembering God being mekadeish the Sabbath is we're actually bringing an active sanctification into the world that we ourselves are doing.


That's what I wanted to share with you on these two views of looking at Shabbat from the two versions of the Ten Commandments. I have more to say about this, which I hope to record for you in the coming month. There is actually a chiasm lurking in one of the most familiar texts that we have, the Kiddush prayer that we say on Friday nights. It struck me as I was reciting the Kiddush, that it seems to be structured in this fascinating Atbash kind of way. I think this is a new twist on the two versions of the Ten Commandments and how they both relate to Shabbat, and the potential relationship between them.

We'll talk about that in a coming session. In the meantime, wishing you a good Shabbat, from either side of the Ten Commandments that you choose to look at it.

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