Kiddush as a Refelction of the Jews’ Universal and Particular Relationship with God

Kiddush as a Refelction of the Jews’ Universal and Particular Relationship with God

This excerpt from the article “The Dual Nature of Shabbat Observance” provides insight into how the text of Kiddush reflects the Jews’ simultaneous universal and particular relationship with God. Rabbi Avi Baumol, currently serving the Jewish community of Krakow, formerly an educator in different Orthodox institutions in Israel and in the US, discusses the duality of the nature of the day of Shabbat as presented through the two separate narratives included in the Kiddush: Shabbat as a universal day of rest (evoked through the story of Creation) and Shabbat as a day to recognize the special relationship between God and the Jewish nation (evoked through references to the Exodus from Egypt). This full article from the Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har Etzion, a religious Zionist Torah academy located in Gush Etzion can be viewed online or at the bottom of this post. 

The Dual Nature of Shabbat Observance

When we think of the day of Shabbat, what springs to mind?  At first blush we would conjure up images of creation, with the words of the Torah resounding: “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done” (Genesis 2:3).  God, having spent six days “creating,” adds, blesses, and sanctifies an additional day (forming a universally acknowledged concept of seven-day week, see Rabbi Yehuda Ha-levi “Sefer Ha-kuzari 1:57) to refrain from His work – to rest.

This universal notion of the Shabbat found its way into the Jewish liturgy, as the Friday evening Kiddush service uses this section as an introduction to the two blessings that are recited -one on wine, the other on the “holiness of the day.”

Another famous passage recited in the morning Kiddush service is found in Sefer Shemot.

“The Israelite people shall keep the Shabbat, observing the Shabbat throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between ME and the PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and was refreshed (Exodus 31:16-17).

Emerging from the passage is the notion that an unseverable link was created between God and His nation. The symbol of that bond is the Shabbat. It is not a coincidence that this idea directly precedes the handing over of the “luchot ha-berit” the stone tablets, acting as the culmination of the pact between God and Israel.

In contrast to the first account of a universal concept of Shabbat as a day of rest, this passage reflects the unique relationship between God and His chosen nation – Israel.

Taking into account these two distinct narratives concerning the Shabbat, what we witness is a duality in the nature of the day. On the one hand it is universally recognized as a day of rest -one in which all of mankind acknowledges God as the Supreme Creator. On the other hand, it is a special day for Israel perhaps earned by Israel, whereby an added element of the Shabbat takes form – not only a day of physical rest, but of spiritual rejuvenation.

“You shall keep the Shabbat for it is holy for you.  He who profanes it shall be put to death.  Whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin” (Exodus 31:14).

This notion of duality in the nature of Shabbat can be aided by, and can contribute to a greater understanding of the Friday evening Kiddush service.  In order to fully appreciate this analysis, let me quote the text in full:

Blessed are you our God, creator of the universe …

(A)Who made us holy with His commandments and favored us, and gave us his holy Shabbat, in love and favor, to be our heritage, as a reminder OF THE CREATION.

(B) It is the foremost day of the holy festival marking the exodus from Egypt.  For-OUT OF ALL NATIONS – YOU CHOSE US and made us holy, and you gave us your holy Shabbat, in love and favor, we inherited (5).  Blessed are you Lord who sanctified the Shabbat.”

A strange redundancy exists in the prayer. In (A) we acknowledge God’s giving of the Shabbat in favor and love, as a heritage.  In (B), with almost the exact same terminology we find the same concepts – favor, love, giving of the Shabbat…  What, then, is the difference between (A) and (B)?

While much of the prayer is similar, we clearly notice two distinct reasons for the Shabbat.  In (A) it is a reminder for the creation, in (B), it is a reminder of the exodus from Egypt. Perhaps what this displays is our universal/national distinction, and the author of the prayer was attuned to this duality.

In the first half we acknowledge the day of Shabbat as a day of rest, a day set up by God so that ALL His creatures can declare Him the Supreme Creator and King of the universe.  As we recite this, we include ourselves amongst the greater population of the world, as we were included in mankind when God created the world. Our relationship to God in this realm is not more unique than anyone else’s, hence, the third person is used to express a more general view of us as God’s creations. Our role, along with everyone in the universe, is to honor the day, and recognize God as the one who created this day along with the rest of the world.

A drastic change takes place in the second half of the prayer. The audience shifts from the general populace of God’s creations to the specific people God has chosen to be His nation. When did the children of Jacob evolve into the “nation of Israel?” In the exodus from Egypt, upon God’s declaration, “And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God” (Exodus, 6:7).

In this section of Kiddush, the voice changes from a removed third person, to speaking directly to God.  YOU have chosen us, You have loved us, and in response, have given Shabbat to us.  But along with this chosenness, comes additional responsibility.  The “universal day of rest” theme, is joined by the “neshama yeteira”, the spiritual aspects of the day.

dual nature