Shema Yisrael (often called simply “The Shema”), the Biblical passage from Deuteronomy 6:4, is certainly the best known of all Jewish prayers. It is part of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. The phrase of course menas “Hear Israel”, and refers to the entire phrase “Hear O Israel, the Lord Thy God, the Lord is One.”.
Christians are familiar with the “Shema”, because it is quoted in the Gospel of Mark. A scribe asked Jesus which commandment is greatest of all. Jesus replied “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord.”
The Shabbat typically begins (on Friday evening) with candle-lighting and “Kiddush”. The Sabbath table is set with two candles (or more), a special kiddush cup is filled to the rim with wine or grape juice, and two loaves of challah bread.
Officially, the candle-lighting blessing should occur 18 minutes before sunset on Friday. The Torah forbids “kindling a fire” on the Sabbath, so the day is marked by lighting a candle immediately before it begins, and ends with lighting a candle at the Havdalah service (see below).
The Sabbath is often greeted by the singing of an ancient prayer called “Lecha Dodi”. The title of the song literally means “Come My Beloved”. In this ancient Kabbalistic song, the sabbath is referred to as “a bride”.
Many other songs and prayers fill the Sabbath, which is concluded Saturday evening with a brief ceremony called “Havdalah”. It should be performed no earlier than nightfall (when three stars can be seen in the sky) on Saturday night. The word itself comes from the Hebrew word “L’HAVDIL”, meaning to separate or to distinguish.
The wine cup is filled to overflowing, symbolizing the joy of the Sabbath day. The spices remind us of the sweetness of the Sabbath, which departs for another six days. The spices commonly used are cloves, cinnamon or bay leaves. They are commonly kept in a special decorated holder called a b’samim box.
“Eliyahu HaNavi” is the song that typically concludes the brief Havadalah ceremony. The song title translates as “Elijah the Prophet”. Elijah’s name is involved in the hopes that he will come to usher in the final eternal Shabbat of the Messianic Age.