Peninei Halakha

12. Va-yekhulu

In the Amida of Ma’ariv on Friday night we recite the “Va-yekhulu” passage, the three verses that recount the first Shabbat of creation:

The heaven and the earth were finished (va-yekhulu), and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. 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. (Bereishit 2:1-3)

The Sages tell us that one who recites Va-yekhulu on Friday night becomes like God’s partner in the world’s creation (Shabbat 119b). The purpose of creation is for God to be revealed to the world, and bless it as a result. This is the primary idea of Shabbat. When a Jew attests to the creation of the world and the sanctity of Shabbat by reciting Va-yekhulu, he realizes the purpose of creation and increases blessing in the world.

The Sages add (ibid.) that one who recites Va-yekhulu on Friday night is escorted home by two ministering angels, who rest their hands upon his head and say: “Your guilt shall depart and your sin be purged” (Yeshayahu 6:7). Shabbat is also connected to teshuva – repentance or return. This is expressed in the phonetic similarity of “Shabbat” and “teshuva.” Indeed, on Shabbat we remember the Creator of the world, and we return to all the positive strivings of our souls. One who recites Va-yekhulu on Friday night gives expression to the deep significance of Shabbat. By doing so he merits true repentance and the forgiveness of his sins.

In addition to reciting Va-yekhulu silently in the Amida of Ma’ariv, after the conclusion of the Amida the congregation repeats Va-yekhulu out loud while standing (SA 268:7). The reason for this is that when Yom Tov coincides with Shabbat, the Ma’ariv service follows the Yom Tov formulation. The sanctity of Shabbat is then mentioned only briefly, and Va-yekhulu is not recited in the Amida. In order to avoid skipping Va-yekhulu on those Shabbatot, the Sages instituted the recitation of Va-yekhulu after the Amida each week. Some suggest an additional reason for its recitation – it is a public testimonial to the creation of the world.[6]

Va-yekhulu is recited yet again in kiddush. We often find that something important is repeated three times.

[6]. Some maintain that following this reasoning, if one’s recitation of the Amida lagged behind the congregation’s so that he did not reach Va-yekhulu with them, he should not recite Va-yekhulu on his own, since Jewish courts do not accept testimony from a single individual. Rather, he should seek a friend to recite it together with him. If he does recite it alone, he should read it as one would read from a Torah scroll, with the cantillation marks (Taz 268:5). There is even an opinion that one should try to speed up his prayer in order to complete the Amida with the congregation so that he will be able to recite Va-yekhulu with a minyan. This is preferable, because in its recitation there is an element of Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name), and the command to sanctify God’s name applies in the presence of a minyan (Pri Megadim; BHL). If one finishing the silent Amida has already said the Yehi Ratzon prayer that precedes the paragraph of Elokai Netzor, he may recite Va-yekhulu with the congregation and then complete the silent Amida. All these customs are an enhancement of the mitzva; fundamentally, one who has not completed his Amida is not obligated to say Va-yekhulu at all. This is because it was established to ensure that Va-yekhulu would be included in the prayer service even on Yom Tov, and in order to give people who were not familiar with the prayer the opportunity to say it (SA 268:7). In any event, even if one is uncomfortable bothering his friend to recite Va-yekhulu together with him, he should still recite it on his own. This way, together with his later recitation of kiddush, he will have recited Va-yekhulu a total of three times (see MB 268:19; Ĥazon Ish 38:10).

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman