A question was once posed to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, the great 18th Century Hassidic leader in Eastern Europe:
“What if someone feels distant from God and Torah?
How can he enter the ‘loop’ of spirituality which on one hand is so appealing, and on the other hand so intimidating?”
Rebbe Nachman answered, “Go to a Shabbat table and sing a niggun [wordless melody]. Sing it with zest and verve, with feeling from deep in your soul. That’s the way to jump in!”
This “jumping in” presupposes a warm gathering of friends and/or family in a well prepared and familiar Shabbat setting, including a meal complete with the singing of special Shabbat songs (called zemirot). If you don’t know the words, you can la,la,la or da, da, dai, dai along with everyone else! If you don’t know the zemirot choose your own special songs for Shabbat. (E.g., see Jonathan Settel’s selection Shabbat Shalom).
The Shabbat experience offers the participation of all the senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – and one echoes this delight with songs from the soul in praise of the One who is the Source and the reason for it all.
All that you do, no matter how simple, in honor of the Lord and His Word will be blessed in return with the peace and beauty of His Presence, and you will enjoy the true Shalom of Shabbat.
Take Small Steps
How does one approach the celebration of Shabbat if one is already not familiar with it? A dear student of “A Taste of Torah” series sent me a touching appeal, summarized here, which might reflect the situation of many who are being drawn to their Hebraic heritage but find themselves alone in their quest:
I would appreciate any suggestions you may have about keeping the Sabbath No one [in family or fellow congregants] seems to have caught my enthusiasm for learning about the Jewish roots of our faith. From reading with you through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, I have a growing sense of urgency about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy, but I don’t know what I should do!
I crave that Sabbath rest. How do I find peace and holiness when e.g. my family only wants to watch TV! Thank you for your encouragement.
My answer may help to address similar challenges that are being faced.
Shalom dear …,
Your request, as I’m sure you know only too well, has no easy answers! At the outset, please be sure of two things…
- Our faithful and gracious Father knows the desires of your heart and will, albeit seemingly very slowly, guide you along the way. Rest & trust in Him. Your longing to honor the Sabbath is pleasing to Him in itself.
The Rabbis encouragingly affirm that God sees the honest and genuine intentions of the heart and accepts them as if one had already accomplished them. He knows your limitations and every small gesture is extremely precious in His sight.
- One’s efforts in keeping Shabbat need not be “all or nothing” to be meaningful and rewarding. Start with very small things, whatever is possible in a non-threatening way to your family, and trust the Lord to lead step by step. A few suggestions:
- Think of little things that will make the day special; for example, fresh flowers for Friday night, a sit-down family meal, or special dessert.
- Select particular prayers to pray on Shabbat, including blessings for your husband, family, friends etc. and for the peace of Jerusalem.
- After offering a simple explanation and emphasizing that this is something you want to do for yourself, light the candles on Friday evening. It’s lovely to have special candlesticks but even two little tea-lights will do.
- Make time for Torah study (e.g. ‘A Taste of Torah’ or ‘A Dash of Drash’ available on the jcstudies.com website; there are excellent commentaries available, see Suggested Resources below  , or Jewish websites such as Aish.com).
- As you plan your Shabbat this way, even including relaxing & watching TV with your family!, you will find that it will create that particular Shabbat atmosphere – which, with the Lord’s help, will be a blessing upon your family whether or not they are consciously aware of it.
Please be encouraged & persevere. You are on the right track! Every little step counts.
There are three main actions one can aim to undertake in order to highlight the Shabbat as holy to the Lord:
1. Light Shabbat Candles
“Send out thy light and thy truth; O God, let them lead me, let them bring me to thy holy hill and to thy dwelling place!”
In a simple and beautiful way, the two Shabbat candles remind us of the lights of the Menorah, God’s Word of Truth, and the Living Word, Yeshua the Light of the world.
The radiance that connects the two resembles the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of holiness – that joins us together as one in Yeshua, reconciled in relationship with the Father and with one another. Thus, in His light, we experience the sanctuary of His Shalom, His peace.
It is the privilege of the woman to light the Shabbat candles. In her absence, or in certain circumstances, a man is welcome to do so. A blessing is recited after lighting the candles. One shields one’s eyes after lighting to concentrate on the blessing, after which the lights are the first thing seen as the Shabbat enters. The traditional Jewish blessing, as found in the Siddur, is:
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha’olam,
asher kid’shanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu lehadlik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are You O Lord, King of the universe,
Who has sanctified us with Your commandments and has commanded us to light the lights of Shabbat.
If you are so inclined you can amend it, for example:
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha’olam,
asher kid’shanu be’Toratcha ve’natan lanu et Ohr ha’Chaim b’Yeshua Mishicheinu Sar ha’Shalom.
Blessed are You O Lord, King of the universe,
Who has sanctified us with Your Torah and has given us the Light of Life in Jesus our Messiah, the Prince of Peace.
2. Make Challah Bread
“And the first of your [dough – challah] you should give to the kohen, in order that blessing will rest on your home.”
The Hebrew word challah [the ch is pronounced as in Bach] originally referred to the portion of dough set aside as an offering for the kohen (priest) at the Temple. Since the destruction of the Second Temple the word has come to mean the festive Shabbat bread itself.
Bread is a staple food the world over and is an important element in the biblical narrative. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3).
After the reminder, “…it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”(John 6:32-33), Jesus made the astonishing claim: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35). The shape of the challah loaf always reminds me of the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,” born to the glorious song of angels under the unique and radiant star that pointed to the new-born King!
Special festive foods, such as the beautiful braided challah bread of Shabbat, are a central element of Jewish celebration and worship. The importance of challah is highlighted in Midrash Rabba (Leviticus/Vayikra 15:6), where it is written: “One who keeps the mitzvah of challah is counted as though he has abolished idolatry.” A renowned Hassidic Rabbi, the Sfat Emet, commented: “Even bread has something within it that comes from on High.” Even a humble loaf of bread can connect us with our Source, our God, the Creator of all.
The blessing prayed before eating challah is the one for all bread:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, ham’otzi lechem min ha’aretz. Amen.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, sovereign of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen.
In Hebraic understanding a person is seen as a whole being. Both the body and the soul of a person are gifts from a loving Father and need to be appreciated and nurtured. In similar fashion, dough needs a mixture of both water (which can represent the spirit) and flour (the body). The prepared dough thus becomes a symbol of oneself and is lifted and set apart unto God when a blessing is said and a portion (the challah) is separated as an offering to Him.
Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller beautifully describes the spiritual and physical dimensions of separating challah from the dough:
“The effect is using the material world in a way in which its latent spirituality is awakened. We are using the gift to reach the Giver, using our bodies to uplift our souls. We redefine ourselves and redefine the world [according to God’s perspective]. Its taste, fragrance, and the delight of baking are a joy to the body and to the soul.” 
While the baking of challah for Shabbat, like candle-lighting, is traditionally attributed to the woman it can also be undertaken by a man to bring blessing to the household. A note to ‘non-bakers’ (such as myself!): You can purchase ready baked challahs at most bakeries and, once home and preparing for Shabbat, you can remove a small piece with the accompanying blessing.  The piece removed after baking or buying must be destroyed and not eaten. It can be either burnt to ashes in foil under the broiler or wrapped in foil, or a plastic bag, and discarded.
Tips for newcomers to challah-baking:
- Set aside a practice time of at least four hours for a first-time trial run. The steps will be: dough-making, shaping, rising, baking, cooling, bagging and freezing. Each step is important.
- Practice the braiding technique with Play-dough, or strips of paper, ribbon or fabric, before you actually make the real dough.
- Cover the raw challahs, once shaped, with plastic while they are rising. This prevents them from drying out and helps them rise.
- Roll out each piece of dough with a rolling pin and then roll up each strand by hand ready to braid, ensuring the strands are the same length.
- Use parchment baking paper on the baking tray/s, NOT waxed paper as this smokes when heated.
- For a shiny look, brush raw challahs with beaten egg, using a brush with real hair so as not to damage the surface of the bread.
- Last, but not least, say a prayer for success, asking God to bless your efforts!
Also remember that perfecting a challah technique takes time and the more you try the more you will improve until you produce the perfect challah!
There are an infinite number of challah recipes. Here is Lori Palatnik’s Always Successful Challah recipe: 
(makes 4 medium challahs – freeze the ones you don’t use)
8-9 cups flour 2 ½ cups lukewarm water ¼ – 1 cup sugar
½ cup oil (canola) 1 Tbsp. salt ¼ cup raisins (optional)
1-2 oz (50 grams) yeast 5 eggs
Mix together 2 ½ cups flour with the sugar, salt, dry yeast, water and oil. Mix in 4 eggs.
Beat in 1½ cups flour very well. Add 4 – 5 cups flour until a very soft dough is formed. Add raisins. Knead. (Separate portion of challah if necessary.) Refrigerate overnight.
In the morning let warm to room temperature, 1-2 hours.
Make balls, roll them into ropes and braid. Let rise, covered [with plastic] for ½ – 1 hour.
Beat 1 egg to make egg wash. Brush on challah.
Bake in oven pre-heated to 325 degrees F. (175 deg.C.), for 30-45 minutes.
Do not overbake.
3. Say Kiddush
“In Your Presence is fullness of joy.”
After the rush of the week and the anticipation and preparation for the entrance of Shabbat on Friday evening (Erev Shabbat), the candles are lit, the challot are covered and on the table, the Kiddush cup is lifted and the Shabbat meal begins!
Before partaking of the meal the Kiddush blessing is recited by the father of the home, when applicable. 
“…So the heavens and the earth were finished” and we turn our minds to our Creator.
“He made us holy, favored us; gave us His holy Shabbat marking the exodus from Egypt”.
He does it all. He sanctifies us, redeems us, delivers us from evil. His is the power and the kingdom and the glory! Amen. Our hearts are filled with joyous gratitude to know that our Father, God, loves us and created the world for our benefit.
The Kiddush includes the blessing over the wine:
Baruch atah Adonai Melech ha’Olam , Borei pri ha’gaffen.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Creator of the vine.
The cup of wine is a symbol of joy. We have met with our God on His appointed, holy and set apart day and we rejoice in His loving Presence.
After the leader drinks from the cup, it can be passed around for everyone to sip from, as a sign of unity in our joy, or each one can have an individual glass in which the wine or grape juice has been pre-poured.
This has a profound implication for believers in Messiah Yeshua, who raised the Cup of Salvation in reference to his blood that would be shed as a renewed covenant to secure salvation for all peoples who would “drink” and receive it (Matthew 26:28).
We also remember Yeshua’s response when he was famished after fasting for forty days in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
He encapsulated the meaning and significance of the symbols of bread and wine when he proclaimed:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread [the living Word of God] will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh [the Word incarnate, sent and anointed by God].”
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood [the wine of the renewed covenant] abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me [ingests the truth of who I am] will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
As we share the bread and the wine on the holy day of Shabbat we rejoice in the Lord of the Sabbath and celebrate, with all our heart, mind and strength, the new life we have in Him.
Taste of Torah
This article is from Keren Hannah Pryor’s weekly devotional study through the five books of Moses, in order to better understand how knowing the Bible in its original context helps us live more intentionally in God’s Presence today. Visit Keren and subscribe to Taste of Torah at www.jcstudies.com.
- Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz, Pentateuch and Haftorahs, The Soncino Press; First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club and other resources; Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Torah Lights, Genesis, UrimPublications.
- Tziporah Heller, Introduction to A Taste of Challah by Tamar Ansh, Feldheim Publishers, Israel, 2008; 16
- Blessing for the removal of challah:
- Baruch atah Adonai, ELoheiny melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu le’hafrish challah min ha’isah.
- Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah from the dough.
- Lori Palatnik, Friday Night and Beyond, Jason Aronson Inc, New Jersey, 1994, 121.
- This book is a wonderful reference and step-by-step handbook on Shabbat, with blessings, recipes, and more!
- There are Scripture-based and meaningful prayers recorded in the Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book) that you can happily base your prayers upon.