The Minhah (sometimes spelled Mincha) Service on Saturday Shabbat afternoon contains a number of significant additions to the regular weekday Afternoon Service.
The 3 Additions for Shabbat Afternoon
First, the prayer U-va L’tziyyon Go·eil (“A Redeemer Shall Come to Zion”) is added after the opening Ashrei psalm. This is a prayer that speaks about messianic hopes, a theme that is at the forefront of our thoughts as Shabbat draws to a close.
Second, the Torah is read publicly.
We call three people to the Torah and read aloud the first section of the next Torah portion, which, almost always, will be read in synagogue on the following Shabbat. According to tradition, it was the biblical personality Ezra who instituted the practice of reading the Torah on Saturday afternoons as a way to accommodate people unable to come during the week to hear the Torah read on Monday and Thursday mornings.
The feeling, however, is anticipatory rather than compensatory: as one Shabbat winds down, we are already looking forward to the next.
Third, the central benediction of the Amidah changes to a unique passage based on the notion that God, Israel, and Shabbat testify to each other’s rare qualities.
This paragraph also mentions the word menuchah (rest) seven times, stressing that Shabbat rest is not merely a cessation of strenuous activity or relaxation, but actual worship. Shabbat, we are reminded, is not a “day off” from our daily tasks as much as it is a day on which we, like our ancestors, are called upon to reconnect with God, with our people, and with our inmost selves.
Finally, many recite three verses, Psalm 119:142, Psalm 71:19, and Psalm 36:7, after the Amidah. These melancholy verses reflect a sense that Shabbat is ending, and that another week of work and struggle will soon be upon us.
There is a custom, on Shabbat afternoon, that calls upon worshipers to recite Psalm 104 and Pslams 120–134 beginning from Shabbat B’reishit (also spelled Bereshit), the Shabbat on which the first portion of the Book of Genesis is read aloud, through Shabbat Ha-gadol, the Shabbat that precedes Passover.
Psalm 104 speaks of God’s creation of the world, thus connecting it to Shabbat B’reishit. The fifteen other psalms, popularly called the Songs of Ascent because of their common superscription, are envisaged as the songs pilgrims sang on their way up to Jerusalem.
According to the Talmud (at Sukkah 53a), these were written by David when he prepared the foundation of the Temple. Reciting them now is a way to connect Shabbat with Jerusalem as the day comes to an end, just as L’khah Dodi connects Shabbat and Jerusalem as Shabbat begins. It is a way for worshipers to imagine themselves as pilgrims on their way to a rebuilt and reunited Jerusalem on the eve of the messianic era.
Also, in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, it is customary to study Pirkei Avot (sometimes called “The Ethics of the Fathers”), a collection of rabbinic maxims and ethical teachings preserved as a tractate of the Mishnah.
Traditionally, one chapter is reviewed each week. The sixth chapter, an ancient addition to the collection, is known as Perek Kinyan Torah (“The Chapter on Acquiring Torah”) because it speaks of the greatness of Torah and the qualities necessary for its successful study. This chapter is thus read the week before Shavuot, the festival that commemorates the experience of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Another widespread custom is to continue learning Pirkei Avot throughout the summer months and only to conclude at Sukkot. That brings the worshiper full circle back to Shabbat B’reishit, when the cycle of additional liturgical passages begins anew.
Adapted with permission from The Observant Life.