Erev Shabbat (Friday Night) Blessings and Ritual

 Page numbers refer to the bencher (book of blessings) Let Us Sing, which we use at Beit Am. For our Shabbat potlucks with Beit Midrash classes, they are loaned out from the building. If you are interested in purchasing them for your own home use, you can do so here: (select “full edition”).

Candle lighting

Before lighting candles, if you would like, a niggun (wordless melody) or song (Mah Yafeh Hayom or Bim Bam) is often sung as a way to bring people together.

Two candles can be lit by one person, representing everyone, or more candles can be lit, giving many people a chance to light candles themselves and then say the blessing together. (You can have one for each person, or one for each family. If you do, tea lights are often a good way to go.)

Blessing: page 46. It is sung together after all the candles are lit. You can hear a commonly used melody here:
Shabbat Candle Lighting

There need not be a rush to the table, or to continue with the songs and blessings below. Often people linger over the candles and savor the first moments of Shabbat before moving on. Feel free to use this time to sing some songs, or have a story, play a game, or share about your week. Traditionally the evening service is prayed at this point, so there can be quite a lot of time between candle lighting and what is below. In many homes, though, people light candles and then move right into the table blessings.

Shalom Aleikhem

Page 51. Traditionally sung as we gather around the table. You can hear a commonly used melody here:

Blessings for Family

Pages 52-59 in our bencher offers a number of different blessings to share with one another at the Shabbat table.

In many communities, it is most common for parents to give blessings to their children. On pages 58-59 you can find those traditional blessings. Alternatively, or in addition, you should feel free to offer any personal or creative blessings to one another—parents to children, couples to one another, and/or anyone present sharing blessings with each other at this time.

Kiddush: Sanctifying the Day 

Pages 60-61. You can hear it sung here:

If the entire Kiddush feels too daunting, you should feel free to take an alternative approach to welcoming and sanctifying the day. You can recite it in English, and/or simply take a moment to appreciate blessings in your life and this opportunity for rest and connection, and then say the one-line blessing over the wine or juice (ending borei peri hagafen). 

Hand Washing

Traditionally, Jews do a ritual hand washing before eating bread. It is not truly for washing, but rather closer to purification/preparation (the blessing refers to the “lifting” of the hands). Particularly on Shabbat, many Jews perform this ritual, which occurs right before the Motzi (blessing over the bread). There are different customs regarding the exact form of the washing, but basically a small pitcher is filled with water, and each person pours some water three times over each hand. Alternatively, in some families a pitcher is filled and a bowl to catch the water is passed around the table with it. Either each person washes the hands of his or her neighbor, or one person goes around washing everyone else’s. 

The blessing can be found on page 71. It is traditionally recited by each person on his or her own, though at Beit Am we generally recite it all together. 

HaMotzi: Blessing over the Bread

Following the blessing over the hand washing (or following Kiddush if there is no hand washing done), the hallah is uncovered. The hallah is often held up by someone, and in some families/communities there is a custom of everyone linking with one another. 

The blessing can be found on page 71. It can be recited by one person, followed by a response of “Amen” from everyone else, or recited all together.

Birkat HaMazon

Following a meal at which bread was eaten, in particular a festive meal such as on Shabbat, the Birkat HaMazon, Grace after Meals, is traditionally recited. The traditional version can be found on pages 2-25. 

In many communities, shortened or alternative versions of the Birkat HaMazon are recited. In our bencher, there is an abbreviated version on pages 34-36, and various alternatives on pages 37-40.

Prepared by Rabbi Benjamin Barnett