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One of the great joys of preparing for the Shabat, at least as far as I am concerned, is preparing the Shabat table. The halacha provides for the necessity of preparing a Shabat table, unique and glorified over all of the other tables of the rest of the week. Just as there are rules and customs regarding Shabat clothing, Shabat prayers, Shabat leisure and rest, there are rules regarding the Shabat table. A special tablecloth, usually white, is used, and today here in Israel there are embroidered and decorated cloths in honor of the Shabat. Additionally, here and in many homes in the Diaspora as well, flowers are placed on the Shabat table to enhance its beauty and allow us to appreciate the fantastic wonders of God's natural world. The twin chalot, a remembrance of the double portion of manna that fell from heaven on Fridays in honor of the coming Shabat, are placed on the table. These are the loaves of bread over which the blessing regarding the commandment of the separation of challah from the dough has been pronounced (the bread is named after this mitzva/commandment). A special challah cover is placed over the two loaves. Here also, as with the tablecloth, much room is left for the artistic expression of the Jewish heart. The variety of challah covers that exist today is almost infinite, as is the pleasure and beauty that each one of them brings to the Shabat table. Usually a special breadboard and bread knife, again reserved for Shabat, also find their place on the table under the challah cover.

The cup for kiddush is also placed on the table. This is usually silver and, again, is an individual expression of Judaic art. Today there are elaborate stands that serve as fountains to automatically fill the smaller cups for the guests at the table. There is no end to the innovation and creativity in the design of kiddush cups. There are collectors of unusual or ancient kiddush cups and there are those who possess a single silver kiddush cup. No matter what the case, kiddush cups are treasures, always viewed as heirlooms to be passed on to later generations. They would continue to be used to sanctify the Sabbath, the wine, the table and the family itself. There is nothing as precious in a Jewish home as a kiddush cup of a grandfather or great-grandfather. It is as though the family elder is still present at the Shabat table, reveling in the joy of the successful transmission of Jewish tradition in his family. It is customary for those who possess many kiddush cups to rotate their use over the year so that even the inanimate ritual objects will not be shamed by being ignored. Not shaming anything in God's world is a cardinal Jewish value.

The Shabat table, which commands our finest silverware and plates, is set early on, preferably before noon on Friday. Napkin rings or other objects of beauty and good taste may enhance the table and in most homes there are small booklets that contain the blessings and the beautiful poems and songs - zemirot - pertaining to the Shabat. Here once again, the talented expressions of Judaic design and artistry are on display. The special wine for kiddush and for the meal are also prepared, and all together, the table reflects a royal splendor and holy beauty. There are many who place the Shabat candles on the table as well, while others place their candles on the sideboard in the dining area. Just as the kiddush cup is the male heirloom in the Jewish home, the Shabat candlesticks may be handed down from mother to daughter, continually shining with the light and holiness of the many Shabatot gone by. The beauty of the Shabat table, the emotional tug and the feeling of serenity that it generates is unmatched in Jewish life. The Jewish home that experiences the Shabat and its glorious table, week after week, is truly blessed and rewarded.

Shabat Shalom.
Berel Wein

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