The Book of Genesis says that God made the world in 6 days and that on the 7th day he rested. Because of this, God decreed that the 7th day was henceforth to be a day of rest for his people. The 7th day is Saturday, so this day of rest, called the Sabbath (also, Shabbat, Shavvas, Shabtai), is observed on Saturday. (1) But in keeping with the old way of reckoning time, this 7th day begins at sundown on preceding day, Friday.
Saturday is named after the old Roman god Saturn (whom the Greeks called Kronos, which means time), and is astrologically ruled by the planet Saturn, which is about time, limits, and restrictions. In ancient times Saturn was the most distant planet that could be seen in the night sky, so it represented the “end” of the cosmos, beyond which lay the invisible realm of the Unknown and the Gods. Time, limits, and restrictions are what define, in a sense, the material universe, so as the furthest planet visible, Saturn was, or was guardian of, this edge, this boundary between matter and spirit. The visible inhabitants of the sky – the sun, moon, planets and stars – all of these were visible, and thus “matter.” But beyond those, beyond the boundary of distant Saturn, lay the invisible realm of Spirit. (2)
When something comes from the realm of spirit into the realm of matter, it must be birthed and birth requires a mother. It is possible that Saturn may have originally been perceived as feminine – the goddess/mother who births matter into being and to which it returns at death. Since the early religion of the Israelites included both gods and goddesses, it may have been that Saturn, the boundary planet, was seen as containing both genders, the divine father who engenders life and the divine mother who gestates and births it. The Shabbat, then, is symbolic of that edge, that boundary or gateway between spirit and matter, where active (creative/active) turns to passive (receptive/resting), because on this 7th day, God rested from the work of creation.
In Judaism Shabbat is seen as feminine, and as the Divine Bride of the Eternal Spirit: God’s royal spouse and queen. As such, it only makes sense that she is the divine mother who gives birth to their children – the material universe and all beings within it. Shabbat, the Queen, is welcomed into the home at sunset, the start of the new day, when light begins to fades into womb darkness and the stars come out.
The Sabbath Queen is welcomed in by the woman of the house, who starts the celebration by lighting the two candles. The man of the house (sometimes the woman) blesses the Kiddush Cup of wine (Qadesh - means holiness) and the challah bread. The challah is covered with a beautiful cloth, which may represent the veil between the worlds of spirit and matter, just as does the veil that covers the communion chalice before and after it is used in the Catholic communion service.
As the woman of the house lights the candles, she brushes their light toward her body with both hands, drawing it toward her heart. Covering her eyes with her hands she then recites the blessing:
“Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech ha olam, asher kiddushanu, bmitsvotah, vitzivanu, l’chad lik ner, shel Shabbat.”
Which means — Blessed are you, L-rd our G--d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the Holy Shabbat.
This opens the ceremony in much the same way that Genesis depicts the start of creation:
First there is Movement:
The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The woman moves into place before the candles, lights them, and brushes their light toward herself.
And then there is Sound:
“Let there be light!”
The woman says the blessing (Baruch ata adonai....)
The wine is then blessed by the man of the house:
“Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech ha olam, borei pri hagafen.” (Blessed are you, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.), and a sip is consumed.
Then the bread, called challah, is blessed:
“Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech ha olam, hamotzi lehem min haaretz, Amen.”(Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.), and a bite eaten with the blessing, “Shabbat shalom!” (Peaceful Shabbat!)
The creator is thus blessed and thanked for the creation, especially that which sustains human life, and a wish for peace is expressed.
* * * * * * *
These actions represent Life arising: the universe coming into being and sustaining us. In this ceremony, the woman lighting the candles represents the Ancient Mother, the Darkness from whom the First Light comes forth. But this light is not just a brightness that allows perception, this light is consciousness, awareness.
This marks the beginning of life itself, and our awareness of life. From that “Light that is Life,” the material cosmos is birthed into being. This is spirit manifesting itself as matter – everything from stardust to stars to galaxies; from planets to beings of all types and their means of sustenance.
This is Spirit in Substance. This manifestation of spirit into substance is represented in this ceremony by the wine and the challah bread. The wine and bread are blessed to show that we remember from whence they came – our Divine Parent(s) – and that we are aware of that fact, and very grateful. Bread is body, wine is blood, and Kiddush means “holiness. Kiddush was also a title of several important Mid-Eastern goddesses, showing that, early on, the birth-giving female principle was recognized as the one that gives life.
The thread of life that runs through humans runs through All That Is. All is divine. All is holy. All is blessed. All is related... and comes from the Divine Mother Source who cares for her children and provides for their needs. The Divine Mother is the Divine Presence within matter, known in Judaism as the Shekhinah, and also as Wisdom, and in Christianity as the Holy Spirit.
There are other parts of Shabbat ceremony that I have not mentioned here, and over the years, additions and enhancements to the basic ceremony have arisen. But the above represents my understanding of the meaning of this very beautiful ritual, which I see as one of acknowledgement, thanksgiving, and blessings to the Divine Source, as well as a devout wish for peace.
(1) Counting from the new moon, the Babylonians celebrated every seventh day as a "holy-day", also called an "evil-day" (meaning "unsuitable" for prohibited activities). On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to "make a wish", and at least the 28th was known as a "rest-day."
--- Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_calendar
(2) This implies that stars and planets were, early on, seen as the physical bodies of the deities.