At the Shabbos Table
By Maya Sekori

What makes a Chabad-Chassidishe Shabbos so special? How do we create the special atmosphere of Shabbos? What can be done to provide better structure for the family for the duration of the 25 hours of Shabbos? How can we get organized before Shabbos and bring in Shabbos smiling and calmly? * About these and other questions, we present Tzivia, Zahava, Esther, and Gila.

Adi, a baalas teshuva, told me recently, "One of the most special experiences in my life was my first Shabbos. I was a guest at the home of L., and even today itís hard for me to describe what so attracted me that Shabbos. Itís clear to me that that Shabbos was my first motivation to draw close to Yiddishkeit."

You can take advantage of the mystical aspects of Shabbos the entire day, not only to mold the family, but also to encourage our brothers and sisters who are not yet involved in Yiddishkeit, to give them a taste (in both senses) of the special pleasure of Shabbos. In this article we will touch on these two topics, both of which have a relationship to creating a special atmosphere on Shabbos.


"To create that special ambiance on Shabbos," begins Tzivia, mother of a family blessed with children, with the oldest ones married, "itís important to be particular to make the appropriate preparations. Itís most worthwhile to set the table nicely, well ahead of Shabbos Ė with everything, including the tablecloth, flowers, etc."

"We should be concerned that the children should dress in holiday clothes, and not sit at the Shabbos table in a robe. These are things that we can do well ahead of Shabbos that create the atmosphere. Itís advisable to start the preparations for Shabbos Ė cooking and cleaning Ė on Thursday. When I do that, I have enough time to finish early, and greet Shabbos more calmly.

"One well-known part of the avoda of a Shabbos such as this is the participation of the children. The children, even the younger ones, should be assigned different jobs, which contributes to their feeling of participation in the Shabbos preparations. When I cook and bake, I speak with the children, the phrase, ĎLíkavod Shabbos kodeshí penetrates deep into their hearts.

"On Shabbos the children are the center of the activities. I give out special sweets líkavod Shabbos. The children have games that are saved specially for Shabbos.

We reside in a non-religious area, so we have to provide special activities for Shabbos. During Shabbos I learn sichos of the Rebbe with my daughters, we sing niggunim (not just during the meal), and we dance together. I still remember how when the children were young they would look forward to Shabbos because they so loved the singing and dancing.

"During the meal, the children play a large part. Each child tells something they learned about the parsha, sichos of the Rebbe, etc. We arrange a Chidon on the parsha every Shabbos. We do this, and we also have guests (and baruch Hashem, many guests come to our house for Shabbos); the guests enjoy listening to the children. Sometimes there are guests who need a lot of attention, as for example when our guests are new immigrants and then the language at the table is not Yiddish, which the children understand, but Russian. But we still try to keep the focus on the children."

Esther, mother of six children, the oldest of which is school-age, offers a few ideas for creating a Chassidishe Shabbos for the children and guests: "Iím particular to have special things for Shabbos, like games they only play on Shabbos, special food (the children love the soup on Friday night, for example, and I make it only for Shabbos, not during the week). There are places we visit only on Shabbos. All of these things give the Shabbos its special quality for the children, and also for the adults."

"Shabbos is full of activities and experiences. In our neighborhood, the school has activities for the children on Shabbos. Thereís still time for activities in the house, though: after candle lighting, on Shabbos morning, and in the afternoon. On Shabbos morning we daven together with special tunes. This is in addition to the meal, which is the main place for singing niggunim.

"In our homes we host many guests, most of whom are new to Yiddishkeit. I believe that a Shabbos like this makes a big contribution to those Jews who are just getting involved in Judaism. This is a wonderful opportunity for them to experience our way of life.

"Itís worth mentioning a few general rules that apply to hosting guests who donít know much about Judaism. The most important rule is to make them feel comfortable. This is self-understood, but when speaking to a guest of this type, we have to be aware of the fact that such a guest is likely to be embarrassed because of his lack of knowledge. We have to avoid as much as possible the comment, ĎThis is forbidden on Shabbosí. On the other hand, we want to avoid situations in which a guest might perform forbidden activities in the house. If they donít know that some things are forbidden, itís okay to explain right at the beginning some general fundamentals. For example, we can tell them the main things we shouldnít do on Shabbos; we can explain that we wash our hands before the meal; we can show them the separation between milchig and fleishig in the kitchen. In addition, we can restrict the possibility of chilul Shabbos Ė we can cover the light switches, we can put away things that are muktzeh, etc. Itís not good to impose many restrictions on guests who are just beginning to be interested in Judaism.

"A relaxed and natural atmosphere is the attraction for the guests; not a rich and varied menu, and not beautiful household objects. When we conduct Shabbos in an ordinary and acceptable fashion, not going overboard, guests will sense that they are part of the family and they will enjoy it.

The children will interact with the guests, as well. Children can contribute to the free and pleasant atmosphere in their own natural way. When there is a need to comment to a guest about something, itís done in a roundabout way through the children; the comment or question is addressed to the child. Again, we avoid compulsion and we act pleasantly so the guests will feel comfortable.

"In the end, if there are people to whom being hospitable in this manner will help bring them closer to Yiddishkeit, that is our reward."

Gila, a young mother of four little ones, tells us: "I remember the first period after we got married. Sometimes I thought preparing for Shabbos was a heavy burden. It was a serious challenge to finish cleaning, do the cooking, and greet Shabbos in a positive mood. Most of the time I felt tired and pressured at the meal. With time, I learned to change my approach. I think that the pleasant atmosphere is the most important thing Ė more important than the number of salads and other things on the tableÖ I try to do all the preparations without making myself crazy, to use shortcuts, and the main thing Ė to emphasize the importance of the children and make a nice Shabbosdik atmosphere.

"There are many ways to reduce the pressure of the work before Shabbos. I make the purchases for Shabbos on Wednesday, and on Thursday I finish the preparations. On Friday I suffice with a general and quick cleaning of the house. Many times Iíve prepared in advance a large amount of certain foods. I freeze some of the food and take it out to thaw when it is needed, like when I anticipate a particularly pressured Erev Shabbos.

"I use this method in baking, as well. Sometimes not only before Shabbos but in any free time I have, I bake cakes and freeze them. On Erev Shabbos I defrost the cake and warm it up in the oven or microwave. Sometimes when I donít have enough, I buy prepared food and cake and use that. Even this concession pays off for the calmness in the preparation of Shabbos. The children always remember the experiences of Shabbos, the niggunim and the conversations around the table more than the food that is served.

"I remember times I was apprehensive about taking guests on Shabbos. If it were today, I would make the tasks much less and the tone much more. Thereís no doubt it all depends on the proper arrangements and appropriate presentation."

Zahava, a mother of young children, quotes the Seifer HaChinuch: "íThe actions draw the heart.í To instill the holy atmosphere of Shabbos, we have to pay attention specifically to the superficial things. The halacha establishes that we have to honor Shabbos with clothes, special food, candle lighting, etc. These things create the special feeling for the children and even for the grown-ups."

"The participation of the children in the preparation and in the cleaning for Shabbos greatly contributes to the atmosphere. Itís important to pay attention to the fact that there are many different restrictions on Shabbos, and on the other hand, there are positive activities that are done to create enjoyment. Itís important to teach the children what is forbidden to do on Shabbos, but the general approach must be to emphasize the positive side Ė the Kiddush, the Shabbos meals, etc. When we mention to a small child, ĎWe donít do this on Shabbos,í we immediately give him a substitute, a permitted and appropriate activity for Shabbos. For this purpose, in our homes, we have specific games only for Shabbos. This way we donít hear the question, ĎWhen will Shabbos be over already?í from the children waiting to play with games they canít play with on Shabbos.

"Itís very important to guard the holy atmosphere on Shabbos, and I mean the speech at the table. We have to filter the topics that come up in the conversation; we shouldnít speak about weekday topics. And concerning permitted topics, not everything needs to be brought up at the table. This is how we guard the feeling that Shabbos is a holy time."


The children, even the younger ones, should be assigned different jobs, which contributes to their feeling of participation in the Shabbos preparations.


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