On Wednesday evening, August 28, community women gathered at Congregation Beth El in Hillcrest for the first of an eight-class series of lectures on the Shabbos home (hilchos Shabbos). The next seven classes will be held at the Emet Outreach center at185-12 Union Turnpike, Fresh Meadows, NY 11366. There will be four or five classes before Rosh HaShanah and the rest will follow after Sukkos.
Everyone in the audience was eager to learn the practical halachos of Shabbos. Rabbi Yuhanan taught the Sephardic customs, but he also shared how they differed from Ashkenazic practice. Though the class officially ended after an hour, women were still asking questions and staying to speak with the rabbi until much later in the evening.
He began with some general beautiful ideas about Shabbos. He shared that we light two separate candles to usher in Shabbos, and we end Shabbos by lighting multiple candles intertwined. “Before Shabbos, we are divided or separate; but as we live through Shabbos, we unite and shine brighter, so by the end of Shabbos the family is close and united and that is the goal of Shabbos.” He explained that if we don’t know the halachos, then misunderstandings and fights can occur. It will calm people who are very strict when they learn that there are many opinions. He shared a story where a boy learned in yeshivah and when he came home, he saw his mother had put a home-baked dairy cake on a meat plate. He threw out the cake and plate angrily. If he had known the halachos, he would have realized that she could wash off the plate and save the cake. Sometimes people are afraid to learn the laws because they will have to keep more. “In reality, the more laws you know, the easier your life will be.” He explained how it is important to know the distinction in halachah between what is okay if it is done l’chat’chilah, initially, or what was done b’di’avad, after the fact. He added, “Knowing halachos will make your life, your children’s, your parents’, and your guests’ lives easier.”
Rabbi Yuhanan’s class is being taught according to the teachings of Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l. Rav Ovadia taught, “One who is stringent will receive a special blessing.” He explained how going to inspirational lectures is like putting fuel in a tank, but if you don’t do anything with the fuel you won’t move forward. “You should combine inspirational lectures with practical halachos.” He went on to explain that Shabbos is one of the 613 Commandments and it is the fourth of the Aseres HaDibros (the Ten Commandments). “Shabbos is a large part of Judaism, and it carries severe punishment.” Two mitzvos of Shabbos are remembering it and guarding it. Zachor is verbal remembrance with prayer and Kiddush, and Shamor is guarding against doing weekday things. He explained how a person who purposely desecrates Shabbos undergoes the most severe punishment from the beis din, which is stoning. He also shared that, for the punishment to take place, there would have to be two witnesses and a warning. He said that stoning is also done for idol worship because an idol worshipper believes there is a power besides G-d. Somebody who desecrates the Shabbos does the same thing. “Shabbos is a sign between us and Hashem that we are proclaiming ‘I believe in G-d and that He created the world and us, and that he rested on Shabbos, and He continues to be involved in running the world, and that everything that happens on earth is guided by Him.’” If a person doesn’t keep Shabbos, then he is denying G-d’s providence and His reward and punishment. He is denying the entire existence of Hashem, so it is like the status of an idol worshipper.
Rabbi Yuhanan shared that there are different levels of keeping Shabbos. A person can spend most of the day sleeping, but that’s the lowest level. The Baal Shem Tov taught that Hashem wants people to enjoy their mitzvos and to be happy that they are serving Him.” Rabbi Yuhanan continued, “Hashem looks into our heart. He wants us to serve Him, not our own fears or desires or honor.” He taught that “If a person wants to honor Shabbos because he wants to honor Hashem, this makes Hashem happy.”
“Shabbos is an eternal sign between us and G-d. On Shabbos, we need to work on our relationship with Hashem. So Shabbos is only me and G-d.”
He noted that it is important for every person to have a rabbi you can communicate with so you know what to do in every situation. He also pointed out that it is important to know if a law is a Torah law, a Rabbinic law, or a minhag.
He taught that every Friday we should ideally devote a large part of the day for preparing for Shabbos. Leave work early if possible and, if not, prepare the night before. Try not to travel on Erev Shabbos, but if you must, allow double travel time. There are restrictions on eating a lot on Friday. Try to eat only enough so you will be hungry in time for the s’udah. “We don’t plan parties on Friday.” Try to start Shabbos early and end late. On Shabbos, we do not have discussions about weekday things.
It’s good to have a checklist for Erev Shabbos and to check your pockets for muktzah items.
He shared some fascinating differences in terms of candle lighting laws between Sefardim and Ashkenazim. In a Sephardic home, only the mother lights. In an Ashkenazic home, each family lights. He noted that the mitzvah of candle lighting is on the household. If the wife is not available, then the husband should light. If the husband is away, then he must light himself where he is staying. He mentioned the custom that if a woman is negligent and forgets to light on Shabbos, then she should continue lighting one extra candle after that. It is ideal to light before the 18 minutes (before “candle lighting time”). It is ideal for candles to be on the table. You cannot move them once they are lit.
Sefardim say the brachah and then light the Shabbos candles, and they do not close their eyes, while Ashkenazim light the candles, close their eyes, and then say the brachah. Sephardic custom is to always say the brachah before the mitzvah. The Sephardic woman takes on Shabbos after she puts away the match. He explained how Chanukah candles are for those outside to see, while Shabbos candles are for us to benefit from the light. Ideally, everyone should accept Shabbos when the woman lights. This is important for children to see. In a situation where one cannot light with fire, then he said a flashlight is preferable over a light bulb because it works more like a candle. You cannot use LED bulbs for the mitzvah of candle lighting. Candles should ideally stay lit until the end of the meal and they can be lit 40 minutes before Shabbos if you are starting an earlier Shabbos. Kabbalistically, it is preferable to use olive oil. Some have the custom to use olive oil for two the candles and wax for the rest. He shared that there are different customs as to how many candles people light.
He also said that it is good to give tz’dakah before candle lighting and really before you perform any mitzvah, because you are doing kindness for others before you help yourself.
The class was followed by a lively question-and-answer session that went late into the night. It was truly beautiful to see the excitement and dedication of our community’s women to keep the laws of Shabbos and make Hashem happy. May we all bring Hashem much Yiddishe nachas from us and our children and grandchildren.
By Susie Garber