We all love saying Shemonah Esrei on Shabbat, but did you know that there is a deeper meaning spanning the three Amidot for the holy day of rest? That’s right — in each Shabbat Amidah, there is a slight change in the bracha of the Sanctity of the Day: the pronoun following the word וְיָנוּחוּ. Let’s see what these small changes can tell us.
To start off, in the Amidah of Maariv on Friday night, we say this as part of the brachot covering the “Sanctity of the Day”:
וְהַנְחִילֵנוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ בְּאַהֲבָה וּבְרָצון שבַּת קָדְשךָ. וְיָנוּחוּ בָהּ כָּל יִשרָאֵל מְקַדְּשי שמֶךָ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’. מְקַדֵּש הַשּבָּת:
And cause us to inherit, Lord, Our God, in love and in favor, Your Holy Shabbat. And may they rest on it (her) all of Israel, those who sanctify your name.
The Maariv Amidah refers to Shabbat as female in saying “וְיָנוּחוּ בָהּ.” But, we see that’s not the case in Shabbat Shacharit.
וְהַנְחִילֵנוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ בְּאַהֲבָה וּבְרָצון שַׁבַּת קָדְשֶׁךָ. וְיָנוּחוּ בו יִשרָאֵל מְקַדְּשֵׁי שְׁמֶךָ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ מְקַדֵּשׁ הַשַּׁבָּת:
And cause us to inherit, Lord, Our God, in love and in favor, Your Holy Shabbat. And may they rest on it (him) all of Israel, those who sanctify your name.
During Shabbat day, the Amidah refers to Shabbat as male. So, now we’ve established that Shabbat night is female, Shabbat day is male, but what kind of curveball will Shabbat Mincha throw at us? Let’s take a look.
וְהַנְחִילֵנוּ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ בְּאַהֲבָה וּבְרָצוֹן שַׁבַּת קָדְשֶׁךָ וְיָנוּחוּ בָם יִשְׂרָאֵל מְקַדְּשֵׁי שְׁמֶךָ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה מְקַדֵּשׁ הַשַׁבָּת:
And cause us to inherit, Lord, Our God, in love and in favor, Your Holy Shabbat. And may they rest on it (them) all of Israel, those who sanctify your name.
Ooh! That was unexpected! By using the word בָם, Shabbat Mincha unites female and male, transcending the gender binary, and ending Shabbat at peace.
We can learn from these slight differences in the Shabbat Tefillah that certain times of day can emulate certain characteristics of gender. For example, Friday night has Kabbalat Shabbat, in which we refer to the “Shabbat Malka,” or the Queen of Shabbat. Thus, it makes sense to coordinate this spiritual character and the pronouns of the later Maariv. Also, Friday night contains the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles that is given to women, so Maariv can highlight the greatness of women on Friday night (although we can celebrate women every night). The male pronoun used in Shabbat Shacharit refers to the time-bound mitzvot that obligate men on Shabbat (that women can also do, but are not obligated to), such as Kiddush and Torah reading. And, the eve of Shabbat celebrates all genders in their observance of and spiritual connection to Shabbat. This shows that Shabbat is for absolutely everyone, and each and every person can find something special to enjoy about Shabbat.