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The departure of the Shabat from a Jewish home on Saturday night is a time of bittersweet feelings. It is difficult to simply leave behind the spirit of serenity and well being that the Shabat engenders and it is especially difficult to do so in a sudden and abrupt fashion. The memories of family interaction, Torah study, holy prayer, special foods and physical and mental leisure linger on. Therefore, there exists in Jewish tradition the Saturday night meal that is called Melave Malka. In a purely literal sense, Melave Malka means, "accompanying the queen." In Jewish tradition one is bidden to accompany a guest to the door or even from the house to the street upon that guest's departure. The Torah stated that the elders of a city where a murder was committed proclaimed, "Our hands did not spill this blood." The Talmud teaches us that this means that the elders of the city were careful not to let guests leave the city unaccompanied. If all of this care and courtesy is true regarding human guests, how much more so should it be true regarding the royal spiritual guest of the week, the Shabat. We cannot just let the Shabat go its way unattended and unrespected. Therefore, a meal of departure in honor of the Shabat queen is prepared and eaten in order to allow us to show our love and respect for this most royal of days on the Jewish calendar.

There is a custom that candles are lit for this meal and placed on the table. There is no particular menu required though most people do eat bread or the remnants of the Shabat chalah at this meal. In my family at home when I was a youth, since my parents were Lithuanian Jews, the standard fare for Melave Malka was herring and boiled potatoes. Somehow, it was absolutely delicious. There are special hymns and songs -zemirot - that are sung or recited at this meal. The great guest at this meal is the prophet Eliyahu and the most popular of all of the Shabat-ending songs is the one that is dedicated to him. Eliyahu is the messenger that speaks to us of our physical and national redemption. He is the forerunner of the messianic era. Since, by tradition, the messiah will not arrive on the Shabat, we take comfort that as the Shabat departs from us we may now hopefully await the appearance of the prophet Eliyahu. This song that we sing at the Melave Malka meal that is dedicated to welcoming Eliyahu is meant to inspire us to make this coming week one of accomplishment and redemption. Only people who long for redemption can truly become redeemed. Another standard hymn that is sung at the Melave Malka meal is entitled Al Tira Avdi Yakov - "Jacob, my servant, fear not!" This hymn based entirely on verses of the Bible is indicative of our hopes that the coming week will be one of security and peace, free from natural and man-made disasters and violence. It represents the eternal optimism of the Jewish people for the arrival of better times and a more just and peacefully ordered society. Both of these hymns have well-known traditional melodies and are usually sung publicly at private and public dinners held on Saturday nights. They have also been the subjects of numerous cantorial and artistic performances. They are two of the best-loved melodies among Ashkenazic Jewry.

In the Diaspora, during the winter season when nights are long, the public Melave Malka is a favorite means for raising funds for worthwhile Jewish causes. Less formal and less expensive than the usual banquet affair, a Melave Malka is an opportunity for a social evening with a worthy cause as its beneficiary. Every Saturday night during the "season" - usually from November through March in the northern hemisphere - there are a wide variety of Melave Malkas to attend. Since charitable causes in the Jewish world are numerous, the Melave Malka as a staple fund-raising event is assured of continuity and popularity. This trend, beginning to catch on here in Israel as well, provides a worthy social outlet for a long Saturday night. It creates an optimistic and cheerful entry into the workweek and allows us to take a piece of the holy Shabat with us as we begin our return to the mundane affairs of life and the world. We should all be grateful for the opportunity to accompany the Shabat queen as she leaves our homes for a week.

Berel Wein

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