Motzei Shabbat, the hours after the end of the Sabbath, is a time when the demarcation between 'holy' and 'everyday' is blurred: The Sabbath lingers with us as we welcome the new week. There are numerous laws and rituals associated with the end of the Sabbath: the evening prayer; the
havdalah ceremony, the transition between the Sabbath and the rest of the week; special songs and a fourth meal, in addition to the three consumed during the Sabbath itself.
Many communities begin the evening prayer with Psalms 144 and 67. After the
amidah prayer, it is customary to say the final verses of psalms 90 and 91. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the important medieval
Arba'ah Turim, explains: "It is the custom to recite the prayer
Vayehi Noam (May the pleasantness of my Lord…) because this is the blessing that Moses recited over the Children of Israel when they completed their work on the
mishkan (tabernacle)" (Tur, Orach Chayim).
Vayiten Lecha (And may God give you…), a litany of blessings and good wishes, is commonly recited, in the belief that it is an auspicious start to the coming week.
havdalah, women in Ashkenazi communities often recited the Yiddish prayer
Gott von Avraham, which also contains blessings and good wishes for the week. This is a rare example of a Yiddish prayer that has entered the liturgical canon. The
halachic source for making
havdalah over a glass of wine can be found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate
Berakhot, folio 33a: "It has also been stated: R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Johanan: The Men of the Great Synagogue instituted for Israel blessings and prayers, sanctifications and
havdalahs. At first they inserted the
havdalah in the
Tefillah (order of prayer). When they [Israel] became richer, they instituted that it should be said over the cup [of wine]. When they became poor again, they inserted it in the
Tefillah; and they said that one who says
havdalah in the
Tefillah must [also] say it over the cup [of wine]."1 The service changed over time: introductory verses were added before the blessings and new customs arose relating to the pouring of the wine, the blessings themselves, and the drinking of the wine after
havdalah, in many communities, people sang religious songs connected to
motzei Shabbat and the prophet Elijah. According to the Maharash, the reason for commemorating Elijah on
motzei Shabbat is because on
motzei Shabbat, Elijah sits under the Tree of Life and writes down the merits of those who keep the
Shabbat. There is also a custom of eating a festive meal after the Sabbath. Known as
Melaveh Malka (Escorting the Queen), this meal was instituted to make it easier to bid farewell to the Sabbath queen by celebrating
motzei Shabbat with food and song.