Friday, January 21, 2011

Saturday Night Delight

The Talmud (Shabbat 119a) describes how the sages would greet Shabbat: “Rabbi Chaninah would wrap himself in his cloak and say: ‘Come, let us go and greet the Shabbat Queen.’” Since Shabbat is regarded as a Queen, we must ask: What occurs at the end of a royal visit? The Queen is bid farewell with great fanfare. So too, there is a tradition of escorting the Shabbat Queen on her departure each Saturday night/Motza’ay Shabbat (literally “going out of Shabbat”). It is known as the Melave Malka (literally “escorting the queen”).

Melave Malka is generally celebrated with a simple meal.* This tradition is based on Shabbat 119b: “While Rabbi Chanina said: One should always set his table at the end of Shabbat, even if he merely needs [desires to eat] only a k’zayit [a small amount of food the size of an olive].” Even if one is not really hungry, one should try to eat something in honor of the Melave Malka. Some authorities maintain that one can honor the Melave Malka with just a cup of fresh coffee or hot tea, based on the statement in the Talmud: “Hot water after the termination of the Sabbath is soothing; fresh. [warm] bread after the termination of Shabbat is soothing.”

The Saturday night meal is also referred to as Seudat David Ha’Melech, the Meal of King David. This tradition is traced back to David’s foreknowledge that his death would occur on a Shabbat (Shabbat 30a). Tradition has it that every Motza’ay Shabbat, King David and his family would eat a special meal to celebrate that he was still alive.

While there is no set ritual for Melave Malka, there is a common custom to light a pair of candles. There are numerous songs that are customarily sung. The best known is Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet, see prayer section below), which is sung in the hope that this will be the week when the coming of the Messiah is announced.

*It need not be simple, of course.

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