They range fromwhat seems like a fraternity dinner at some places and at other places a low-key herring or gefilte fish dinner. It has been referred to with many epithets, which are little more than corruptions of the Hebrew words shalosh se’udot which means “three meals.” Its aegis is from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat B’shallah. At 16:25 we see the word “today” or “hayom” used three times, which is a subtle reference to the three Shabbat meals. Mind you, in days of old people ate two full meals a day and the rabbis ordained that there should be three meals on Shabbat to enhance it.
The biblical justification for the third meal is found with the Israelites’ wandering. Moses has told the people that the manna would come each day, except on the Sabbath, when (at 16:29) Moses tells Israel, “Mark that the Lord has given you the Sabbath, therefore He gives you two days of food on the sixth day.” Shabbat here is viewed as a gift, or as our liturgy puts it, an inheritance. Based on Jewish law, halakhically, this is part of the background of pikuach nefesh, saving the soul—God gives Shabbat to you, not you to Shabbat.
What will transpire Shabbat afternoon in some synagogues will be Shabbat Mincha (afternoon service), and while it is still Shabbat, se’udah sh’lishit will be served in the shul immediately followed by the weekday Maariv (evening service), with one small addition, and then Havdalah. This affords the participants one last moment together before the turbulence of another workweek presents itself. The fare may be simply what is left over from the Kiddush earlier that day to herring or something a little more opulent. Most memorable are the two hallmark se’udah sh’lishit songs, Mizmor L’David (Psalm 23) and Y’did Nefesh (Companion of My Soul) as we end our day of rest with a formal statement of longing for communion with God, and most of all, for redemption.
My take on Shabbat is that is a gift of joy and relaxation but also of wisdom. One sees this idea in the obscure Midrash Pasihta Zutrata playing on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:16 that “seeing” is understanding. Thus, 16:29 reads something like: “Now you may see, and understand, because God has given you Shabbat…” By slowing down, we absorb what we have heard, make sense of it and integrate it. Just like sleep is the time of reviewing a day’s events and subconsciously assimilating them into memory, so too is Shabbat a mechanism for taking what we have heard all week and making it our own. I wish all of you a Shabbat of relaxation, a time to rest and reflect, and then a time to remember not just the Exodus from Egypt, but also the Torah that we are fortunate enough to study in complete freedom.
This week we will be having our own “third meal” experience as we celebrate Tu B’Shevat together. From 5:00-5:45 PM will be our family seder followed by Havdallah and a light dinner together. This will then be followed by an adult seder around 6:00 PM and a Tu B’Shevat movie for the children (who are encouraged to come in pajamas). May we grow spiritually and numerically to have se’udah sh’lishit become a part of our weekly Shabbat experience.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham