07 – Shabbat Meals and Melaveh Malka

01. The Mitzva of Se’udot Shabbat (Festive Shabbat Meals)

The Sages state: “One who eats three festive meals on Shabbat is spared from three misfortunes: the birth-pangs of the Messiah, condemnation to hell, and Armageddon” (Shabbat 118a). The Sages also state: “Whoever delights in Shabbat is spared from imperial subjugation” (ibid. 118b). Informing these statements is the idea that without Shabbat we would become totally subjugated to the material burden of this world. We would work nonstop in order to sustain our bodies and provide them with pleasure; we would forget our divine souls and find it difficult to elevate ourselves toward divine ideals. Our spiritual inclinations would be suppressed and silenced, and we would consequently sink into all the world’s faults and perversions, which are the cause of all calamity. But when one is privileged to connect to Shabbat with all his being, spiritual and material, through Torah study and prayer as well as rest and pleasure, he transcends the world’s flaws and reaches the eternally good world. Thus he is automatically saved from the calamities of this world.

This coarse material world is full of barriers that prevent the divine light from being revealed, and the soul from actualizing itself. But one who enjoys Shabbat through Torah, prayer, and good food connects his body with its spiritual roots. The physical becomes a vehicle of expression for the soul and for the sanctity of Shabbat. Then the limitations and impediments of this material world cease to exist, and the heart is made whole. This fulfills the words of the Sages: “Whoever enjoys Shabbat is given everything his heart desires” (Shabbat 118b).

By cleaning our houses and eating festive meals in honor of Shabbat, we link the material world to its spiritual roots, and draw down blessing upon it. This is the meaning of the statement of the Sages: “One who honors Shabbat merits wealth” (Shabbat 119a). They similarly state: “Whoever makes Shabbat enjoyable receives boundless territory” (ibid. 118a), as the biblical text states:

If you refrain from trampling the Shabbat, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; if you call Shabbat “delight,” the Lord’s holy [day] “honored”…. Then you will seek the Lord’s delight. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Yaakov – for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Yeshayahu 58:13-14)

Yaakov’s heritage is boundless.

At first glance it would seem very easy to enjoy Shabbat with good food. Why then did the Sages talk at such length about the great reward for doing this? Doesn’t everyone like to eat and enjoy? What must be kept in mind is that the mitzva is to take pleasure in Shabbat – not in the palate or the gut. In other words, we must enjoy the meals while recognizing that they serve to express the sanctity of Shabbat. The meals should leave one with a greater desire to learn more Torah and do more mitzvot. If one is privileged to enjoy Shabbat, and joins the pleasure of the body with the exaltation of the soul, he merits holiness and blessing both in this world and in the World to Come.

Though Shabbat and Yom Tov are similar, there is also a difference between them. The mitzva of Shabbat is oneg (pleasure, delight) while the mitzva of Yom Tov is simĥa (joy). The difference is that simĥa is conspicuous and visible to others. Thus it is a mitzva on Yom Tov to eat meat and to drink more wine than usual. However, oneg is more internal, subtle, and refined. Thus the mitzva of eating on Shabbat is also more refined. One who does not really enjoy meat and wine can enjoy other foods instead. Perhaps this is why fish is a typical Shabbat food; its taste is refined and subtle.[1]


[1]. The element of oneg that pertains to Shabbat is explained in Yeshayahu 58:13, Shabbat 118a, and Pesaĥim 68b. Me’ iri and Rashba discuss it as well (Berakhot 49b). However, concerning Yom Tov, the verse states “You shall rejoice in your festival (ve-samaĥta be-ĥagekha)” (Devarim 16:14). This is explained in Pesaĥim 109a and MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:17-18 as referring to eating meat and drinking wine. Ĥatam Sofer OĤ 168 states that the difference between them is that if one eats meat on Yom Tov, even if he does not really have an appetite, as long as he enjoyed the meat, he has fulfilled the mitzva of simĥa, whereas on Shabbat if he does not have an appetite, he has not fulfilled the mitzva of oneg. Additionally, one who finds fasting pleasurable can fast and still fulfill the obligation of oneg Shabbat, but not of simĥat Yom Tov (SA 288:2). The difference between them is also expressed in the law that the public nature of the simĥa of Yom Tov cancels mourning while the more private oneg of Shabbat does not (She’iltot, Ĥayei Sarah §15). Some contend that there is a mitzva of simĥa on Shabbat as well as on Yom Tov (Abudraham based on Sifrei). See Harĥavot.

02. The Parameters of the Mitzva

There are two mitzvot pertaining to the Shabbat meal. One is oneg, the mitzva to delight in Shabbat, as it is written: “Call Shabbat ‘delight’ (oneg)” (Yeshayahu 58:13). Oneg is fulfilled primarily through the meals, but snacks and a Shabbat nap are parts of it as well. The second mitzva is to partake of three meals. The Sages saw this hinted at in various verses (Shabbat 117b).[2]

The first meal is held on Friday night, the second on Shabbat morning before midday, and the third on Shabbat afternoon from half a seasonal hour after midday until shki’a. If one eats the third meal prior to this, he has not fulfilled his obligation (SA 291:2). One who did not eat dinner on Friday night should eat three meals on Shabbat day. If one was unable to eat the second meal before midday, he should eat two meals afterward, for some maintain that the timing of the meals is not critical, and be-di’avad one may rely upon them (Behag; Rema 291:1).

Bread is the staple of the meal because it is the most important food. It is a mitzva to prepare other good foods that people delight in. In the time of the Sages, people enjoyed a dish made of spinach, large fish, and heads of garlic, so it was a mitzva to prepare these for Shabbat (Shabbat 118b; MB 242:1). Since most people enjoy meat, wine, and delicacies (meaning tasty fruits), poskim write that we should have plenty of them (SA 250:2). One who does not enjoy meat and wine should prepare foods he does enjoy for Shabbat.

The Aĥaronim write, based on Kabbala, that there is a mitzva to eat fish at each of the three meals. Several reasons are given for this: fish symbolize blessing, they hint at deep matters since they are creatures of the deep, and ayin ha-ra (the evil eye) has no power over them. However, one who does not enjoy fish is not required to eat it (MA 242:1).

Even though eating sparingly is generally a positive character trait, on Shabbat it is a mitzva to eat heartily. It is not considered gluttonous since it is for a mitzva (Shabbat 117b; SA 274:2; MB 6). However, one should not overeat, because overeating leads to exhaustion and depression. As for those who stuff themselves, fill up, become tired, fall asleep, and do not study Torah, they do not get any credit for the mitzva. They are not making Shabbat enjoyable, they are only pleasing their gullets (Shlah, Masekhet Shabbat, Ner Mitzva §37; see above 5:3).

One may not fast on Shabbat, even for just an hour. Even one who does not intend to fast but in fact has not eaten anything by midday on Shabbat morning has transgressed this prohibition (SA and Rema 288:1). He also is obviously not eating the second meal at its ideal time.

One who is ill and has no appetite need not eat very much, since the eating is meant to be pleasurable. One who does not enjoy eating need not eat much but should try to eat a little more than a keveitza (egg’s bulk) of bread. If even this is difficult for him, he should eat at least a kezayit. If even this amount pains him, he should not eat at all (SA 288:2; 291:1).[3]


[2]. According to Sefer Ha-ĥinukh §297, the mitzva of oneg Shabbat is rabbinic since its source is Yeshayahu 58:13, and mitzvot derived from the Prophets are similar in status to rabbinic mitzvot. However, according to Rambam it is a Torah law derived from “But on the seventh day there shall be a Shabbat of complete rest, a sacred occasion (mikra kodesh)” (Vayikra 23:3). Implied by the term “mikra kodesh” is honoring Shabbat with good food and clean clothes (MB 242:1). The question of whether fasting on Shabbat is a Torah prohibition or a rabbinic one hinges on this disagreement. See BHL 288:1.The mitzva of eating three meals, according to almost all poskim, is rabbinic. According to Shabbat 117b it is hinted at in the verse in Shemot 16:25 where the word “day” appears three times: “Then Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a Shabbat of the Lord; you will not find it today on the plain.’” However, there is an opinion that this is an actual derivation from the verse and thus the mitzva would be of Torah origin (Yere’im §92; Levush). AHS 291:1 states that even if this mitzva is not literally from the Torah, it must have been instituted by Moshe as a Sinaitic tradition. See SSK ch. 54 n. 109.

[3]. Although as long as one eats a kezayit of mezonot at kiddush (or a revi’it of wine according to some), he fulfills the requirement of making kiddush in the place of a meal, this is because kiddush need not be made where one of the three Shabbat meals will be eaten. Rather the obligation is that it be made where one experiences oneg. Eating a kezayit is enough to meet this requirement. But in order to have one’s eating be considered one of the three required Shabbat meals, he must eat a set meal. The smallest amount for this is more than a keveitza, although be-di’avad a kezayit will do (MB 291:2; SSK ch. 54 n. 4; see Menuĥat Ahava 1:8:2).

03. Leĥem Mishneh (Two Loaves) and Cutting the Bread

There is a mitzva to use two loaves of bread on Shabbat, to commemorate the double portion of manna that fell on Fridays when the Jews were in the desert and that was referred to as leĥem mishneh (Shabbat 117b). Actually, there are many double aspects to Shabbat. Its mitzvot are two-fold – Zakhor and Shamor; its sacrifices are double – two perfect lambs; its punishment is double, and so is its reward. The bread that we use is doubled to express that the day is doubly great (based on Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalaĥ §261).

The person breaking bread should hold both of the challahs in his hands while reciting the berakha, but it is sufficient if he cuts only one. By holding both challahs during the berakha, he has already fulfilled the mitzva of leĥem mishneh (Rambam, Rashi, SA 274:1). However, others maintain that one should cut both challahs (Shlah, Vilna Gaon). Those who wish to follow this custom should make sure to use small challahs so that they can finish them during the meal. The widespread custom is to cut only one loaf.

There are many customs as to how to arrange the challahs for the berakha. Some put one loaf on top of the other and cut the bottom one (SA 274:1). Others cut the top challah (Arizal). Others cut the bottom challah at night and the top challah during the day (Rema ad loc.) Those who cut the bottom challah should draw it closer to themselves when reciting the berakha (MB 274:5). Some follow Arizal’s custom of having twelve small loaves on the table at every meal (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 263:2).

Ideally, the challahs should be completely whole. Accordingly, one should not remove the sticker often found on the loaves of bread (in Israel) until after the berakha, since doing so may peel away a bit of the crust, thus rendering the challah not quite whole. If there are no whole loaves available, one should use the ones that are closest to whole. If necessary, he may use frozen bread for leĥem mishneh (SSK 55:12). If there are no complete uncut challahs but there are two whole loaves of pre-sliced bread, be-di’avad one can make “ha-motzi” on them. This is because some maintain that since they are whole loaves, and their package serves to preserve them as one unit, they are considered whole (Meshiv Davar §21). If there are no loaves available but only slices, one should make the berakha over two slices (SSK 55:17).

At se’uda shlishit as well, one is obligated to use two loaves in order to give expression to the double nature of Shabbat (SA 291:4). If he does not have two loaves, he should make “ha-motzi” over one whole loaf. For when the manna fell, our ancestors in the desert were left with only one loaf for se’uda shlishit (Rema ad loc.).

04. The Importance of the Shabbat Day Meal

The daytime meal is more important than the Friday night meal, so the best foods should be saved for this second meal. Regarding kiddush, however, Friday night is more important, because we are meant to sanctify the day as close as possible to its onset. It is with regard to honoring Shabbat that the daytime takes precedence over the nighttime (Pesaĥim 105b; SA 271:3).

Some maintain that one who honors the Friday night meal more than the daytime meal should fear punishment, because he has disrespected the day’s meal (Rashi, Gittin 38b). Therefore, some make a point of not eating fish on Friday night, to avoid a situation in which the meal by night might seem more important than the meal by day (Yam Shel Shlomo, ad loc.).

Others maintain that if it turns out that the Friday night meal is better because hot, fresh food can be served then, it does not reflect any disrespect. Therefore, one may prepare foods for Friday night that need to be served hot – such as fish, soup, or other foods that would go bad if they sat overnight – even if this means that the Friday night meal will be better than the daytime meal. But when dealing with foods that can be served either by night or by day, such as wine and fruits, one should make sure to give precedence to the day’s meal. For many people this is not a problem, because even though on Friday night they have hot, fresh food, they still prefer the foods that are generally served by day, such as cholent and kugel, whose unique flavor results from leaving them on the warming tray for a long time (AHS 271:9).

In practice, one who prefers the foods served during the day is certainly honoring the daytime meal. But one who does not prefer them must make a point of serving foods he especially loves by day, to show that it is the more important meal. He need not cut back on the Friday night meal in order to do so.

Some say that one should ideally eat a meal with bread immediately after making kiddush, and not have foods that are mezonot or other foods then, because the primary mitzva of enjoying Shabbat is fulfilled through eating a meal. If one eats various foods beforehand, he might have no appetite for the Shabbat meal. Nevertheless, there is no prohibition involved, because enjoying Shabbat following kiddush is also considered honoring the day. What is important is to not spoil one’s appetite for the second Shabbat meal, which will be celebrated with bread (Darkhei Moshe 249:4; BHL ad loc. 2 s.v. “mutar;” AHS ad loc. 12-13).

Some eat a light, dairy meal for the second Shabbat meal so that they will be alert, energetic, and able to learn Torah all day. They then have the main meat meal near evening at se’uda shlishit (See MT 30:10). It would seem that they too fulfill the mitzva, because the key is for the important meal to be eaten on Shabbat day.

05. Se’uda Shlishit

If one does not have bread for se’uda shlishit or finds it difficult to eat bread, be-di’avad he may fulfill his obligation by eating mezonot. Although one may not use mezonot for the first and second meals (SA 274:4), when it comes to se’uda shlishit, some maintain that the primary purpose of the meal is to increase one’s delight, not to reach satiety, so one is not obligated to eat bread specifically. Therefore, be-di’avad one fulfills the obligation with mezonot. If he does not have mezonot either, or cannot eat them, he should eat meat or fish. If one has no meat or fish, he should eat fruit, preferably cooked, since cooked fruit is considered more akin to a proper meal (SA 291:5).

Ideally one should plan his eating so that he will have an appetite for se’uda shlishit. If it turns out that he is eating se’uda shlishit not long after lunch, he should eat less at lunch so that he will have an appetite for se’uda shlishit. If one was not careful about this and as a result is full when it is time for se’uda shlishit, he may eat a bit more than a keveitza of bread and thereby fulfill his obligation. Be-di’avad, he may even eat only a kezayit of bread. If a kezayit of bread or other foods is still too much and would cause him grief, he has lost this mitzva opportunity (SA 291:1; MB ad loc. 2).

According to Rambam, one must make a berakha over wine during se’uda shlishit. Some understand this to mean that just as one makes kiddush before lunch, similarly he must make kiddush before se’uda shlishit (Tur). However, in practice the mitzva of kiddush is once by night and once by day, and there is no mitzva to make kiddush over wine at se’uda shlishit (SA 291:4). Others say that Rambam is merely ruling that there is a mitzva to drink wine at se’uda shlishit in order to make Shabbat more delightful. Indeed, several Aĥaronim write that it is best to beautify the mitzva by having wine at se’uda shlishit.

Se’uda shlishit must begin before shki’a. As long as one recited “ha-motzi” before shki’a and began the meal, he may continue to eat even well after tzeit. However, if one was not eating bread but mezonot, fruits, or vegetables, or if he was drinking, then once shki’a arrives he must stop, because these foods do not render this a proper meal; since the time for havdala has already arrived, one may not eat or drink (SA 299:1; MB ad loc. 2; AHS ad loc. 3-5; below 8:8).

One who did not manage to begin se’uda shlishit before shki’a may start eating up to 13.5 minutes after shki’a (and may continue eating well beyond nightfall). But later than that, he should not eat se’uda shlishit.[4]

If a bride, a groom, and a minyan, were present at se’uda shlishit, Sheva Berakhot are recited at the conclusion of the meal. The person who leads the zimun, the bride, and the groom all drink from the wine after Birkat Ha-mazon even if it is past tzeit and they have not yet made havdala, because drinking this wine is a continuation of their meal (See below 8:8 where we record that some are accustomed to drink wine from the kos shel berakha even without a bride and groom present).


[4]. 13.5 minutes is the time that bein ha-shmashot extends according to the Ge’onim, while according to Rabbeinu Tam it is still day (see above, ch. 3, end of n. 1). Therefore, one may be lenient and start se’uda shlishit then. This is the position recorded in Igrot Moshe OĤ 4:62 and Yalkut Yosef 291:20. (See MB 299:1 and SHT ad loc.2. SSK 56:4 states that one may not begin eating during this time.)

06. Birkat Ha-mazon

The Sages instituted a special passage to be inserted into Birkat Ha-mazon on Shabbat: “Retzei Ve-haĥalitzenu” (“Favor and strengthen us”). In it we ask that our Shabbat rest and our fulfillment of Shabbat mitzvot find favor with God, and that God allow us to keep Shabbat with no sorrow or anguish. Since this is a petition, the Sages ordained that it be recited during the third berakha, which is also petitionary. In order to return us to the topic of this berakha, the added prayer ends with a request about Jerusalem and the redemption. We then return to the paragraph of “U-venei Yerushalayim.”

One who forgot to recite Retzei but remembered before beginning the next berakha (Ha-tov Ve-hametiv) must add the following prayer: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who lovingly gave Shabbatot for rest to His people Israel to serve as a sign and a covenant. Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Shabbat.” One then continues with Ha-tov Ve-hametiv. If he realized that he forgot Retzei after he had already begun Ha-tov Ve-hametiv, he must repeat Birkat Ha-mazon from the beginning. For the Sages required that Shabbat be mentioned in Birkat Ha-mazon. Thus if he did not mention Shabbat, he did not fulfill his obligation (SA 188:6).[5]

All of this pertains to the first two Shabbat meals, when all agree that one is required to eat bread and therefore required to recite Birkat Ha-mazon. However, if one forgot to mention Shabbat in Birkat Ha-mazon at se’uda shlishit he does not repeat it, since be-di’avad that meal can consist of mezonot, so he is not obligated to recite Birkat Ha-mazon. Therefore, if he forgot Retzei, he does not repeat Birkat Ha-mazon. This is also the case regarding the insertion of Ya’aleh Ve-yavo on Rosh Ĥodesh or Ĥol Ha-mo’ed: Since one is not obligated to eat bread then, he does not repeat Birkat Ha-mazon (SA 188:8).[6]

If one began to eat se’uda shlishit before shki’a and finished after tzeit, he says Retzei, since we follow the starting time of the meal. If Rosh Ĥodesh falls out on Saturday night, there is a serious doubt as to what he should mention in Birkat Ha-mazon. In order to avoid this situation, it is best to avoid eating bread after tzeit. That way it is certain that he should recite Retzei only.[7]


[5]. According to Ĥayei Adam 47:18, even if one began the berakha following Retzei and said “Blessed are you, O God, King of the universe” with the intention of continuing “Ha-tov Ve-hametiv,” he may correct himself and continue with “Who gave Shabbatot…” However, according to most Aĥaronim, even if he only said the first word of the berakha, he is already required to repeat Birkat Ha-mazon, since this shows that he has forgotten about the special Shabbat request. In practice, the ruling in BHL inclines toward stringency and requires that he repeat. Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Ĥukat 20 states similarly. However, Kaf Ha- ĥayim 188:28 and Yabi’a Omer 6:28 side with Ĥayei Adam.

[6]. However, according to Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Ĥukat 20 and 22, if one recited Birkat Ha-mazon before tzeit and forgot Retzei, he must repeat Birkat Ha-mazon even at se’uda shlishit. This is because on a mystical plane there is no difference between se’uda shlishit and the rest of the Shabbat meals. In practice, I recorded the opinion of SA and most poskim that one does not repeat.

[7]. If one continued eating bread after tzeit, then it would seem that he should recite Retzei based on when the meal began; in contrast, he should recite Ya’aleh Ve-yavo based on when the meal ended. Poskim disagree about what to do in this case: many feel that if one ate bread after tzeit, he must recite Ya’aleh Ve-yavo but not Retzei. Thus state MB 188:33 and Yaskil Avdi, OĤ 7:27. But according to Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Ĥukat 22 and Yalkut Yosef 291:18, since he did not make havdala and he began the meal on Shabbat, he should recite Retzei and not Ya’aleh Ve-yavo. According to Taz 188:7, if he recites Birkat Ha-mazon after tzeit he should mention both Shabbat and Rosh Ĥodesh. This is also the opinion of Magen Giborim and Bigdei Yesha. (Therefore, le-khatĥila one should recite Birkat Ha-mazon before tzeit.)

07. The Significance of Melaveh Malka

The Sages state that it is a mitzva to set the table on Saturday night for the melaveh malka (lit. “accompanying the queen”) meal, with which we honor Shabbat at its departure (Shabbat 119b). When one must say goodbye to a dear and beloved guest whom he does not want to leave, he escorts him a distance in order to spend just a bit more time with him. So too, we must escort Shabbat at its departure. Despite the fact that it is over, we continue to savor and delight in its holiness.

On Shabbat we are blessed with additional holiness in all areas of life, material and spiritual, as expressed through prayer and meals. Our goal is to extend the light of Shabbat to the weekdays. Arizal explains that by saying Vi-yhi No’am (Tehilim 90:17–91:16) in Ma’ariv on Saturday night, we extend the additional spiritual holiness of Shabbat to the weekdays, and ask that God’s grace rest upon all our endeavors. Through melaveh malka we extend the light of holiness to our eating all week.

We have a tradition that there is a bone in the human body called the luz. This bone did not benefit when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge; therefore, even though death was decreed upon mankind as a result of the sin, this bone does not rot. At the time of the resurrection of the dead, each individual’s revival will begin from the luz. This bone, we are told, is nourished only by melaveh malka (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 300:1-2; Vayikra Rabba 18:1).

Those who are especially devout prepare special food for melaveh malka. The Talmud (Shabbat 119b) recounts that R. Abahu’s household was accustomed to slaughter a calf on Saturday night to serve at the melaveh malka. R. Abahu would eat one of its kidneys. When R. Abahu’s son grew up, he asked why it was necessary to slaughter an entire calf each Saturday night. He suggested that it made more sense to leave over a kidney from the calf that had been slaughtered on Friday, and eat that on Saturday night. The family listened to him and saved  some of Friday’s meat for Saturday night. A lion came along and devoured the veal that was meant for Saturday night. Thus they gained nothing. The Gemara tells us this story to teach us that it is proper to make the extra effort and prepare special food for melaveh malka rather than just eat Shabbat leftovers.

08. The Laws Pertaining to Melaveh Malka

Since the melaveh malka is meant to extend the Shabbat experience to the weekdays, it is comparable to the other Shabbat meals. Thus it is appropriate to put a tablecloth on the table and set it nicely. It is also appropriate to remain in Shabbat clothes until melaveh malka is finished. Just as Shabbat meals are equally relevant to men and women, so is melaveh malka (SSK 63:1-3).

Ideally one should have bread for melaveh malka, as one does at all the Shabbat meals, and one should make a special dish in honor of the meal. One who is not very hungry should try to eat at least a kezayit of bread along with something else. If he does not wish to eat bread, he may eat either mezonot, a cooked or fried food, or, minimally fruit, similar to se’uda shlishit (section 5 above).

One who does not have enough food for three Shabbat meals as well as melaveh malka should give precedence to the Shabbat meals. He can fulfill the obligation of melaveh malka with a kezayit of bread (SHT 300:9).

Ideally one should eat melaveh malka fairly soon after Shabbat ends. One who is not hungry then should try to eat within four hours of nightfall, or minimally before midnight. If he was not able to eat before midnight, he may still eat at any point during the night (Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:25; SSK 63:5).

Some maintain that one who continued se’uda shlishit past the end of Shabbat is exempt from melaveh malka. However, the custom is that even in such a case, one still eats melaveh malka later on (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 300:11).