Thoughts on Kiddush
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Many people are convinced that Kiddush is the prayer for wine. Though it is usually recited over a cup of wine (or grape juice), Kiddush itself is actually the prayer sanctifying the Sabbath or Festival day, setting it apart formally from the regular days of the week. If you do not have any wine or grape juice, you may still recite Kiddush over a loaf of bread such as the Shabbos Challah. Kiddush is intended to be the fulfillment of the well-known version of the fourth commandment as it appears in Exodus: “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” Zachor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho.” The rabbis respond to this commandment by saying “Zochrehu al hayayin, Remember it over wine.” So we do so by making Kiddush at the beginning of Shabbat and making Havdalah over a cup at the end both generally using wine if it is available. In Deuteronomy, when Moses repeats the Ten Commandments, he renders the fourth commandment not as “Zachor,” but “Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho.” “Observe (or keep) the Sabbath day to make it holy.” This refers to the various restrictions on labor that we are reminded to observe. How could Moses change the wording of the commandments? The rabbis explain it this way; God said both at the same time. “Zachor v'shamor b'dibur echad ne'emru,” Remember and Observe were said as one word.” When we sing of this strange phenomenon in L'cha Dodi, the words are reversed to put the letter Shin of Shamor at the beginning of the stanza, so the author's name, Shlomo Halevi (Alkavetz) can be incorporated into the hymn as an acrostic, each stanza beginning with a letter of his name. Having linked the two versions of the commandment, the rabbis then state that anyone obligated to observe Shabbat is also required to remember it, i.e. to say Kiddush and Havdalah. So women whom all agree were included in the mitzvah to keep Shabbat, also have the positive commandment to recite Kiddush and Havdalah even though traditionally it has been the man's role to say these prayers for his family. A woman may do so just as well.
Our Kiddush on Friday night has three components: the introductory verses from Genesis, Vay'chulu, the bracha for wine, Borei p'ri hagafen, and the longer blessing to sanctify the day, M'kadeish hashabbat. Vay'chulu appears also twice in the Friday evening service, once in the Kedushat Hayom section of the Amidah and again right afterwards introducing the symbolic repetition which includes Magen Avot.
When we recite these verses from Genesis that speak of God resting on the seventh day of Creation, sanctifying this day and blessing it, for on it He ceased (shavat) from all of His labor which He had created to be done, we in effect take up our role as partners with God in Creation and thereby explain our obligation to join Him in blessing and sanctifying, setting apart, this seventh day from the other workdays of the week. When we observe Shabbat, we are affirming God's role as Creator and Master of all that exists and we give honor to Him by imitating Him in ceasing our work in recognition of the sanctity of the seventh day.
The Psalmist states that “wine rejoices the human heart.” Shabbat, according to Isaiah, is intended to be a day of delight, of oneg, and therefore we celebrate the day with a festive meal including wine. In fact, while on weekdays, we may have only two full meals each day, on Shabbat we purposely have three meals, Friday night dinner, Shabbat noon lunch, and late afternoon Seudah Shelishit, the third meal of the day. At least at the first two, we begin with a cup of wine. Most beverages that we drink are preceded by the general blessing of “Shehakol nihyeh b'dvaro,” praising God “by whose word everything came into being.” However, wine is unique in that it has its own special blessing, no doubt due to its being singled out by the Psalmist in Psalm 104. Bread is also mentioned as coming forth from the earth in that Psalm, and it too has its own blessing, hence it can replace the blessing for wine, when there is none available. Strangely, though the blessing is for the creation of “the fruit of the vine,” we make a different blessing when we actually eat grapes or raisins, “borei p'ri haetz.”
As with all of our mitzvot and customs, there are detailed laws about how we should recite the Kiddush. Among other things, we are to make sure that the cup has been washed out and the exterior has been cleaned. We fill the cup to the brim; some even make it overflow, in keeping with Psalm 23, “my cup runneth over.” We reach out for the cup with two hands, to indicate our eagerness to embrace this mitzvah. However, we then switch to a single hand, our stronger one, to show that this commandment is not burdensome at all. When we drink the cup, not right after this blessing, but at the conclusion of the longer, second blessing of Kiddush, we are to drink the majority of the cup. If the cup is rather large, we may pour some into smaller cups to distribute to family and guests at the table before drinking the remainder ourselves.
You may notice that in a group one adds a brief line prior to making the blessing for wine, basically asking those assembled, “Savri maranan v'rabanan v'rabotai” what they think about drinking this wine. Is it safe? Is it too strong? To which they reply, “L'chayim” may it be for life!. Hence our familiar toast. As I write these words, Danny Kaye's famous routine about “the chalice from the palace with the brew that is true” comes to mind.
The main Kiddush blessing begins like all the other blessings before a mitzvah: “Baruch Atah Adonay...asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav...” “Praised are You, Lord, our God Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us through His commandments.” Now instead of concluding in the usual fashion v'tzivanu who has commanded us to do such and such, the prayer continues, v'ratzah vanu, who desired us, and caused us to inherit in love and desire, Your holy Sabbath. The word “inherit” occurs again toward the end of the prayer. I'm not sure if that captures the true meaning of hinchilanu or hinchaltanu. Shabbat is a precious heritage that God has given us, which we have inherited from our forebears as a gift demonstrating Divine love. “Zicharon l'maasei v'reishit,” taking the understanding of the Exodus text, Shabbat is “a memorial to the acts of Creation.” We go on to state, “ki hu yom techilah l'mikraei kodesh”, it is the first, the pre-eminent, day of all the holy convocations, that is of all our holidays. Shabbat is the most important and fundamental holiday in our tradition, and here we add the reference to the Deuteronomy text, “zecher l'yetziyat Mitzraim”, “a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.” As we come to the end of the blessing, we say, “Ki vanu vacharta, v'otanu kidashta mikol ha-amim,” “for you have chosen us and sanctified us from among all nations.” This is that troubling concept of the Chosen People that we have spoken of before. Again, we protest, we're not saying we are better than others, but rather we are grateful to be singled out to receive this gift of Shabbat to enhance our lives and to bring a sense of holiness into our homes every week. “V'shabbat kodsh'cha b'ahava uvratzon hinchaltanu,” we repeat “and Your holy Sabbath in love and desire You have caused us to inherit.” We end with the chatimah, the conclusion, “Baruch ata Adonay, m'kadesh hashabbat.” “Praised are You Lord, who sanctifies Shabbat.” At this point, we drink the wine.
Customs vary as to whether one should stand or sit to recite Kiddush, some stand for the opening portion, then sit for the second part. Others stand throughout the prayer and some sit throughout. Even if you were standing, it is customary to sit to drink the wine. On a regular weekday, if one were to have wine during the course of one's meal, one would begin the meal with the blessing over the bread and then later make the bracha for wine. Since we are using the wine for Kiddush on Friday night, the order of the blessings is reversed. The custom is to cover the challahs to remind us to say Kiddush first and also, we're told, to spare the feelings of the challah, as it were, who are being temporarily overlooked in favor of the wine.
On Saturday morning, following services, we make Kiddush again. This is known euphemistically as Kiddusha Rabbah, the great kiddush, even though it is the shorter one. The day is already sanctified, so it is not really the same thing as on Friday night. It is primarily the blessing for wine and, in fact, halachically that is sufficient. Customarily people add verses appropriate to Shabbat beforehand, the verses from Exodus that begin with V'shamru are said and all or part of the fourth commandment (the version from Exodus) is recited before the blessing. There is a controversy over the prevalent custom of reciting only the last verse of the commandment; that violates a Talmudic principle against citing partial verses. Nonetheless, after singing V'shamru, we conclude with “Al kein beirach...” “Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” In some places however you will have to listen to the entire fourth commandment before you get to drink the wine.
If there is no wine or grape juice, one may substitute the “local beverage” hence the preference many have for making Kiddush on Saturday morning over their favorite adult beverage. Nonetheless, if there is indeed wine, someone should make Kiddush over the wine and the others may choose what they wish to drink. The definition of the “local beverage” varies somewhat. It has to be somewhat more than water or milk, though I'm not sure if a carbonated beverage can be used either. One could use coffee or tea though. Though one can use bread for the evening Kiddush, we do not do so in the morning.
On holidays the Kiddush blessing is similar to Friday night,with the appropriate modifications for each holiday. We end by praising God who sanctifies Israel and the [holiday] seasons. This formulation acknowledges that it is up to the earthly court to set the dates for the holidays, thus having sanctified Israel, we sanctify the holidays. Except for the last days of Pesach, we add Shehecheyanu to the festival Kiddush as a third blessing. When the holiday falls on a Saturday night, we incorporate the Havdalah into the prayer, thus adding a blessing for the light of the candle as usual on Saturday night and a special version of the Havdalah blessing separating between the holiness of Shabbat and the holiness of Yom Tov, and concluding with the ending, Praised are You O Lord, who distinguishes between holy and holy. This Kiddush/Havdalah combination is known by the mnemonic “Yaknehaz” “Yayin, Kiddush, Ner, Havdalah, and Zeman” “Blessings for wine, Kiddush, candle, Havdalah, and Shehecheyanu.”
On Sukkot, there is one more blessing added for dwelling in the Sukkah. On the first night of the holiday it precedes the Shehecheyanu, for we are saying Shehecheyanu for the mitzvah of the Sukkah as well on the first night. Subsequently, we add it at the end after Shehecheyanu.
The Kiddush for daytime on Yom Tov, like the one for Shabbat, is basically the blessing for wine preceded by appropriate verses on the holidays, taken from Leviticus. On Rosh Hashanah we add a verse from Psalms about sounding the Shofar on the new moon.
I'm not a big drinker. I rarely have liquor in the house and at most on a social occasion may have a single drink. Hence when the doctor asks if I drink, I'm not always sure what to say, “I make Kiddush.” Kiddush hardly qualifies as drinking, for we sanctify the day over the wine and it becomes a part of something very special and holy.