Shabbat - Hand Washing & Blessing Bread
Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday night and ends at nightfall the following night. It is a time-out from daily activities that are filled with work and responsibilities. Shabbat is a respite from the week and a time for us to nurture the spiritual pieces of our selves.
Every action during Shabbat takes us beyond normalcy and into the realm of holiness. This includes our festive meals which begin with a ritual hand washing (Netilat Yadayim) and recitation of the bracha (blessing) over bread.
Netilat Yadayim is another action utilized to elevate our meal from its typically mundane status to a place of holiness. While we wash any time we are eating bread with a meal, it takes on a special significance during Shabbat.
Following Kiddush, we rise for the ritual hand washing. Our table is still adorned with two, covered challot. When we wash for Netilat Yadayim, we use a special washing cup which is a large two- handled cup. The cup might be simple and made of plastic or it may be more ornate and embellished with decorations.
Rings are removed prior to washing. The cup is moved to the left hand, which then pours water onto the right. Traditions vary as to how much water and how many times. Some pour three short bursts from the left to the right before switching hands. Others pour with the right hand first and then change to the left.
As the water is poured from the wrist to the fingertips, one can envision the grime from the week washing away. It’s time to let go of the physical and embrace the spiritual. Once the water has been poured, the hands are raised up and the bracha is recited.
Baruch atah ad*nai eleKenu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vetzivanu al netilat yadayim Blessed are you G-d, King of the Universe, who made us holy with His commandments and commanded us in the washing of the hands.
After reciting Netilat Yadayim, one returns to the Shabbat table and does not speak until the blessing over the bread has been said and one has had a taste of the challah. The challot are uncovered. There are two to symbolize the double portion of manna that fell from the sky when the Jewish people were on their way to the Land of Israel.
The cover is removed (though some leave it on during the blessing) and the challot are lifted. The blessing is recited: Baruch atah Ad*nai eleKenu melech ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz. Blessed are you G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
HaMotzi is a pause of gratitude for the food we have and for the efforts of growing and cultivating the food. In modern times, we might call it “from farm to table” – though the Jewish people might say from “G-d to table”.
The challah is sliced, dipped in salt, and passed around the table. The salt is said to remind us of the bitter times the Jewish people left behind in Egypt. It is also reminiscent of the salting that took place before eating an offering at the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Now that challah has been consumed, it is time to bring out the food and delve into the spirit of Shabbat.
Here are some of the washing cups available from Amazon where I receive an affiliates fee:
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