On Shabbat we eat three meals: one on Friday evening, the second after the Shabbat morning prayers on Saturday morning or early afternoon, and the "third meal," called Seudah Shelishit, is a light repast eaten late Shabbat afternoon, often immediately following the afternoon services, starting shortly before sunset. Technically, one is supposed to eat bread during each of these meals.

The Talmud1 relates this to the verse:2 "And Moses said, 'Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the L-rd; today you will not find [manna] the field.'" The verse uses the word "hayom" – "today" three times in reference to eating the manna, alluding to the three meals that we eat on Shabbat.

Notice, however, that the third time that the word "today" is used, it refers to the fact that the manna did not fall on Shabbat, "today you will not find it." Some understand this as a hint that the third meal can be commemorated with less food, or without bread, coinciding with the third time the word "today" is used – "today you will not."

This is reflected in the ruling of the Code of Jewish Law,3 that one who is uncomfortable eating bread at the third meal because he is still satisfied from his previous meal may rely on the lenient opinion that even a fruit could suffice for the third meal.

Furthermore, according to the kabbalah, the third (and holiest4) meal is a foretaste of the Messianic Era, when the human body will not gain its sustenance from physical food, rather it will thrive on spirituality alone.5

Even according to this kabalistic reasoning, however, one should not refrain entirely from eating Seudah Shelishit, and should partake of (at least) something small, a fruit or some other snack, at this meal. This is because even during the era when we will not require physical food for our sustenance, we will still exist in physical bodies. Therefore, when experiencing a taste of the Messianic Era on Shabbat afternoon, our physical bodies have to enjoy the Shabbat, which is done (until that era arrives), through eating food.

Best wishes for a sweet new year,

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson