Oneg Shabbat — Delighting in Shabbat

We will learn about what it means to delight in Shabbat, in light of the traditional commentary on the verse “and you call Shabbat a delight.”

Resource Ages: 12-14


“…and you call Shabbat a delight […] and honor it.”

Isaiah 58:13

וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג […] וְכִבְּדַתּוֹ.

“A delight” ‒ How do we make Shabbat delightful/ enjoyable?

With a special dish of beets or spinach and big fish and heads of garlic.

“עֹנֶג” – בְּמָה מְעַנְּגִים אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת?

בְּתַבְשִׁיל מְיֻחָד שֶׁל סֶלֶק אוֹ תֶּרֶד

וְדָגִים גְּדוֹלִים 

וְרָאשֵׁי שׁוּמִים

“And honor it” ‒ Your Shabbat clothing should be different from your weekday clothing.

From the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, page 118  and page 113a.

וְכִבְּדַתּוֹ” – שֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא לְבוּשְׁךָ שֶׁל שַׁבָּת כִּלְבוּשְׁךָ שֶׁל יוֹם חֹל.

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How can my actions make time sacred?
  • How do the holidays bring beauty and order to our Jewish year?
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?
  • How does being Jewish affect what I do in my daily/weekly life?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How is delight and enjoyment expressed during Shabbat?

Background for Teacher

In Jewish tradition, Shabbat is not only a day for resting and refraining from work; it is also a day on which we are commanded to enjoy ourselves. That is, to do things that we enjoy that we do not do everyday. The requirement...

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In Jewish tradition, Shabbat is not only a day for resting and refraining from work; it is also a day on which we are commanded to enjoy ourselves. That is, to do things that we enjoy that we do not do everyday. The requirement to enjoy oneself on Shabbat appears only once in the Bible, in the book of Isaiah (chapter 58, verse 13), where it says, “and you call Shabbat a delight […] and honor it.” 

However, in its concise style, the Bible does not describe the elements of that delight. Over the generations, our sages have attempted to fill in this gap. The sages of the Talmud interpreted the words “delight” and “honor” as activities related to eating, drinking and the wearing of special clothing. The many generations of sages living after the time of the Bible and the Talmud continued to assign meanings to the words “Shabbat delight” and added customs such as setting and decorating the table, singing Shabbat songs, hosting guests, sleeping well and learning Torah. To this day, many Jews try to find modern and relevant ways to make Shabbat enjoyable.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study

Divide the students into pairs and ask them to read the following story:

In the Talmud, a story is told about a man named Yosef, who was known as “Yosef Who Honors Shabbat.” He got this nickname because Shabbat was particularly important to him and he always tried very hard to honor Shabbat with special foods. In Yosef’s neighborhood, there lived a very rich non-Jewish man who owned a lot of property. One day, astrologers told the rich man, “All of your property will be consumed by Yosef Who Honors Shabbat.” 

The rich man was shocked and alarmed. He went and sold all of his property. He took all of the money that he made from selling his property and bought a very valuable pearl. He sewed the pearl into his hat and kept that hat on his head at all times. One day, when he was crossing a bridge over the river that flowed through the town, a strong wind came and blew the hat off of his head. The hat fell into the river and was carried all the way to the sea. When the hat got to the sea, it was eaten by a large fish. One Friday, just before Shabbat, fishermen caught this fish and brought it to the market. In the market, the fishermen asked, “At this late hour, so close to the start of Shabbat, who will want to buy this big fish from us?” 

The people in the market answered them, “Go and bring it to Yosef Who Honors Shabbat. He’ll never refuse to buy special food in honor of Shabbat.” 

So, the fishermen went with the fish to Yosef’s house. Yosef saw the fish and immediately bought it. When he went inside and opened up the fish, he found the pearl that the fish had swallowed. He was very happy and, after Shabbat, he sold the pearl for a lot of money. As he was on his way home with all that money, he met an old man and told him, “Whoever invests in Shabbat, is rewarded by Shabbat!”

(adapted from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, page 119a)

After they have read the story, ask each pair of students to write what they see as the message of the story.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. Why do you think that it is important to Jewish tradition to connect Shabbat not only to rest, but also to enjoyment?
  2. Why was it considered necessary to command people to enjoy themselves and why specifically on Shabbat?
  3. What does it mean “to honor” a particular day?
  4. Does the fact that Shabbat arrives once a week make it easier or harder to feel a sense of enjoyment on Shabbat?
  5. Everyone enjoys different things. Why do you think that the sages suggested specific things for people to enjoy on Shabbat? What would you have chosen instead?

Oneg Shabbat is also the term used to describe a festive get-together on Shabbat. Divide the class into groups that will each prepare an Oneg Shabbat. Decide together what these activities should include. If possible, each group can invite the rest of the class to an Oneg Shabbat in the home of one of the group members. You could also have an Oneg Shabbat in the classroom once a month.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel imagined Shabbat as “a palace in time.” We recommend studying this passage  to learn more about the relationship between Shabbat and the other days of the week.