Hi, I’m Michael Chighel and you are someone who clearly … needs to know … What’s up with making Kiddush on Shabbat?

It all begins with a little verse from the Book of Exodus. Well, okay, not so little—it’s actually the fourth of the Ten Commandments:

זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ

“Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it.”1

Remember. So is it enough to just …. hm … O yeah!

Not really. You see, the English word “remember” really only covers part of the meaning of the Hebrew word zachor. Zachor refers not just to a mental act. It also refers to the verbal action of mentioning the memory out loud.2

And out loud means: making a blessing. As in: Barukh ata Hashem … Like it says: “to sanctify it.”3 Which is precisely what kiddush means: sanctification.

And because the blessing is for a joyful occasion, the Talmudic sages determined that it should be made over wine.4

So how do we do the mitzvah of saying kiddush?

On Friday night, after nightfall, just before we sit down to have our festive Shabbat meal, we fill up a cup to the brim with a minimum of a reviit of wine … approximately three fluid ounces. Grape juice is okay too.

We stand, and, holding the cup in the right hand, then we recite the following verses from Genesis:

“The sixth day. The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day Gიd finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And Gიd blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it Gიd ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.”

Then we say the blessing over the wine:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה` אֱלֹקינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן

Blessed are You, O Lord, our Gიd, Sovereign Monarch of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine.

Then we say the additional traditional blessing, and we sit down, and drink at least one mouthful, or cheekful, of wine.

During the day of the same Shabbat, we make kiddush again, this time prefacing the blessing with a recitation from Exodus.5 Likewise on the holidays, the Yamim Tovim, we make kiddush both at night and during the day.

Why exactly did the Sages determine that kiddush is to be made over wine? Well, for one, the term zachor, “remember,” is associated with wine in Scripture. Hosea (14:8), for example, says that, when Israel will return to Gიd, the people in their moral excellence will be “memorable like the wine of Lebanon.”6 And in Song of Songs (1:4), the beloved sings to her lover: “Your love is more memorable than wine!”7

But it’s really a question of “gladdening the heart.” Wine puts us in a good mood, a mystical mood. I’m in a mystical mood, in a mystical groove, it’s a mystical vibe. Which is exactly the mood you want to be in to remember the Shabbat, the original Shabbat.

You see, Shabbat is not just a day off work, a day to chill out. Shabbat defines the seven day cycle of the week. The week is the only measure of time that is not based on nature. A month is based on the natural cycle of the moon. A day is based on the natural cycle of the earth spinning on its axis. A week is the only measure of time that is not natural. A week is not in the natural order simply because the natural order is in the week. Gიd made the entire cosmos in a week.

And so every Shabbat returns us to a point in the cycle, the same day on which the Maker of the Universe stopped designing and installing the Universe. Shabbat is a weekly commemoration of Creation. That’s why the text that we recite for the kiddush before we drink the wine is from Genesis:8

“ … And Gიd blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it Gიd ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.”

And what better way to kick off this special, sweet and holy day, Shabbat, a day for becoming attuned to the stupendous miracle of Creation, the miracle of the existence of … everything, than with a beautiful little mnemonic device that says … L’chaim!