Here are the basic steps of turning a Friday night into Shabbat.
Candle Lighting: The image of a Jewish woman kindling her Shabbat candles is a timeless symbol of Judaism. Eighteen minutes before sunset, we light the Shabbat candles, inviting peace and harmony into the home, infusing the atmosphere with physical and spiritual light. Candle lighting brings peace, warmth and a special Shabbat glow into the home. Light Shabbat candles before sunset — our free Jewish Calendar shows candle lighting times for most areas within the United States.
Kiddush: Everyone stands as the leader cradles a Kiddush cup full of wine or grape juice, to sanctify the Sabbath by remembering that "in six days, God created the heaven and the earth—and on Shabbat He rested." Our week is filled with work and creation, but Shabbat is the day of rest and reflection. "Kiddush" literally means to make a distinction, to elevate something physical and make it spiritual. By reciting Kiddush, we elevate not only the cup of wine, but the very day of Shabbat itself.
Hand Washing: We wash our hands in order to purify ourselves before we break bread. First remove all rings as the water must cover your hands completely, and then say the blessing.
Ha-Motzi: Two challahs are placed on a challah plate or challah board, covered with a decorative challah cover, and set on the table. The two loaves commemorate the double portion of manna which fell from the heavens each Friday while the Jews were in the desert. After the blessing, the leader cuts the challah for everyone and serves. We place salt on the bread because salt is a preserver, symbolizing that this meal is no longer merely a transitory experience, but a moment that will last for eternity.
Festive Meal: A traditional Friday night dinner usually includes several courses: fish, soup, entrée and dessert. This is a time to enjoy each other's company while partaking in the delicious Shabbat food. Each family or circle of friends creates their own Friday night traditions that include Shabbat songs, words of Torah, stories for children, and time for the children to share what they learned in school about the week's Torah portion. In some homes, people go around the table to share what they are grateful for, or to tell a small miracle story.
Songs: We all remember a few favorite songs from the days of Hebrew school or summer camp. The mystics say that "song is the expression of an excited soul." Song will relax you and propel you into the Shabbat experience. Besides, if there are any children around, they'll love it. And don't worry if you can't follow the words — it's the melody and rhythm that will give you the greatest lift.
Benching: After the scrumptious Sabbath meal, we thank God by benching. We prepare for the blessing by rinsing our fingertips with water, called Mayim Achronim, which is usually passed around the table.