Making Kiddush: Why, When, Where + How

Dr. C. Tova Markenson

Making Kiddush: Why, When, Where + How

In Jewish tradition, time for rest is required. No matter how strongly I feel that I did not get enough done this week, making Kiddush reminds me that rest is not optional. Making Kiddush is a way to create a loving boundary between the bustle of the week and the slower pace of Shabbat. 

When you are running on empty, what helps you fill up your cup?

Why Make Kiddush?

Kiddush references a Jewish creation myth wherein a mysterious force works six days a week to create the world. This mysterious force has many names; some call it the universe, or a higher power, or life force energy, or G!d. As the story goes, on the seventh day of the week this Great Mystery adds their finishing touch: rest.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week, we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath, we try to become attuned to holiness in time.”

The ritual of Kiddush supports the transition into sacred time — time to pause and reflect, time to connect with each other and with ourselves, time to just be.

What are some ways of creating sacred time that is meaningful for you?

How to Make Kiddush

Traditionally, Kiddush happens after candle lighting and before the rituals of handwashing and blessing the challah.

It involves choosing a special glass, goblet, cup or other vessel — perhaps one that you do not typically use during the week. Fill the cup with wine, grape juice, or a drink that is special to you (i.e. not something that you drink every day).

Why wine? Grapes symbolize community (because they grow in bunches), fertility, humility, beauty, and more. Wine is associated with joyous celebrations and is thought to create positive memories of Shabbat.

Before taking that first sip of wine, some people say a Hebrew blessing. If you’d like, you can listen to and read two versions of this blessing here. One is short, sweet, and to the point. The other is a longer passage from Genesis that describes how rest made the work of creation complete.

If you choose to say Kiddush but use something that is not wine or grape juice, you can replace the blessing over the wine with a blessing for all beverages. So at the end of the blessing, instead of saying “borei pri ha-gafen” you can say:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam shehakol nihiyah bed’varo.

Blessed is the source of life by whose word all things came to be.

After saying the blessing, take a sip of your newly sanctified beverage. Some people have a tradition of passing a glass of wine around to share with other guests.

If blessing isn’t your thing, no problem. You could also sing a song, read a poem, or offer a short guided meditation. For more inspiration for mindful Shabbat practices, see our Shabbat Meditations guide (Kiddush is on Page 3).

Beyond the Basics: Making Kiddush Your Own

To me, part of what makes for a meaningful Shabbat experience is when guests or hosts offer their own personal connection to the ritual.

To symbolize welcoming in an abundance mindset on Shabbat, some people fill the cup to its brim (though if you do this, be sure to put a small plate underneath the cup to prevent spillage!). As you pour the glass, reflect on any areas of your life where there is abundance.

At one Shabbat dinner, I learned about a Kabbalistic understanding that red wine evokes the quality of gevura, or strength, justice, and boundaries. If using red wine for Kiddush, some add a splash of water into the cup; the water symbolizes chesed or loving-kindness. Together, gevura and Chesed create a balance of strength and love.

What is the relationship between boundary setting and love?

When a host is reciting the long-form Kiddush blessing, it can be a little awkward for guests to know what to do with themselves. There is a teaching that the light reflected in the wine will restore your own inner light. As Kiddush is being recited, consider asking guests to look into their own glasses of wine for the sparks of light twinkling back at them.

Who has helped you nurture your own inner light?

The Kiddush blessing also makes me think of another part of the creation story: the part where the God character acknowledges, “Hey, you know all this work I did? This is good.” I am struck by what is not here. No one says, “This is 100% perfect!” or “I’m not sure this is good enough…”

This. Is. Good. 

But wait… in so many ways, the world is so broken.

What might it be like to hold the brokenness alongside the good?

When you next raise your glass to make Kiddush, take a moment to peer through the wine to see the inner light and consider the paradoxes in your world.