By Avi Lazerson
Each Shabbat, we eat three meals; one on Friday night, one Shabbat morning and the third meal is eaten on Shabbat afternoon. These three meals are considered obligatory, a meal in halachic sense generally means having bread, although many only eat at the third meal cake, cookies or even fruit since for many people eating so much food is a bit too much.
Yet even with this heavy emphasis on eating food on the Shabbat, yet another meal which is not required is customarily partaken; this is the Melava Malka. The Melavah Malkah, which is normally translated as meaning 'escorting the queen' although not mandatory, is considered very important. Why?
The Shabbat is compared to a queen. When royalty comes to visit, it is obligatory on the host to arrange a royal banquet. Picture a head of state who is hosting a visiting queen; there are royal banquets and state dinners at which both the head of state and the queen participate. But let us say the head of state really enjoys the queen's company and wishes to show her how special he considers her, what does he do? When all the mandatory state dinners are finished and before the queen leaves, he meets with her privately with just a small intimate meal. Why? Because the head of state finds it difficult to part with her company. This shows the queen that the obligatory meals that were given in her honor were not just because she is royalty, but that the head of state really likes her and will miss her when she has left.
The Shabbat is similar. The first three meals are obligatory; it is a mitzvah to partake from them. However when the Shabbat is leaving then the Melava Malka is the proper way to show the Shabbat how much we enjoyed its stay with us and how much we will miss it when it has gone.
In this manner the holiness of the Shabbat does not 'disappear' and 'evaporate' with a 'poof' when the Shabbat is over. We extend and draw the holiness into the mundane and secular week. It gives our coming week vitality and light as we wait for the Shabbat to come back again.
There are no fixed rules for the Melavah Malka. It is customary to light two candles and have bread. Many have milk foods with it since the Shabbat is normally meat, but this again is not obligatory, others are less formal and have pizza or kugel. Many people invite friends to join and they sing songs and tell over insights in the Torah and the weekly parsha.
The Melaveh Malkeh is also called the meal of King David. King David asked G-d to let him know when it would time for him to die. G-d refused saying that no man will know when his life shall end, but He told him that he would die on the Shabbat. After hearing that, King David anticipated each Shabbat would be his last. When the Shabbat passed and seeing that he was still blessed with life he invited his friends to celebrate and he made a small feast. This is a special time to be inspired by King David's love and devotion to G-d and to Israel which he expressed so beautifully in the Book of Psalms.
In addition to that reason, there is another reason for a Melava Malka. Our sages tell us that when we eat food each part of our body derives nourishment from that food except for a small bone located between the spine and the skull. This bone is called the 'luz' bone. It gets nourishment only from the meal eaten at the Melava Malka and not from any other meal. Now when Adam sinned and ate from the forbidden fruit his entire body derived benefit from that forbidden food, that is with the exception of the 'luz' bone. Therefore the sages tell us that when man dies and his body decays and turns into dust, the 'luz' bone does not decay but remains intact. It is from this bone that at the end of days will come the Revival of the Dead. Therefore the Melava Malkah gives life to the luz bone which permits us to participate in the resurrection of the dead.
The Shabbat is the backbone of the Jewish Nation. By honoring the Shabbat when it is not obligatory not only strengthens your personal backbone but also the backbone of the Jewish Nation.
from the July 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine