Our Mishna tells us that should a fire break out in one’s home chalila, it is permitted to save food from a fire that is sufficient for 3 shabbos meals.
This applies if the fire breaks out before dinner on Friday night, otherwise one is only permitted so save enough for the remaining meals on Shabbos.
It should be pointed out that it was normative in Talmudic times to have only 2 meals a day, one in the morning, and one in the evening, and thus having a third meal on shabbos stuck out as a special act of honoring the shabbos.
This might be the reason why this meal, which should technically be called סעודה שלישית (the third meal), is traditionally referred to simply as שלוש סעודות (three meals.)- It is through this meal that it is apparent that all 3 meals are done in honor of shabbos, and not just to satisfy one’s needs.
In our day, when we eat 3 meals a day in any case, how is this result achieved without having 4 meals?
As it is usually forbidden to eat before davening, one generally does not have breakfast, so we are still left with only 3 meals.
Perhaps this is the reason for the custom to have a Kiddush after davening at shul, in lieu of breakfast, so סעודה שלישית is truly an extra meal.
However, if we treat the third meal as a form of early supper as we often do, we are effectively just replacing our Saturday night dinner with an early one (which in summer can be quite late indeed.)
Perhaps this is a halachik reason for the custom to have a Melava Malka (extra meal to escort the Shabbos on her way ) after shabbos as well, so that it is clear that סעודה שלישית is being eaten just for the sake of shabbos?
Yet, as nice as the above ideas sound, we need to investigate whether
there is really an obligation to have one more meal than usual on shabbos, as a fulfilment of the general Mitzva of honoring and enjoying the Shabbos day
OR whether perhaps there is simply a technical obligation to have 3 halachic meals on Shabbos, regardless of circumstance, based on its own independent source, whether or not one eats more meals than one does during the week in practice.
This question could have special application when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos, and bread or Matza is not permitted after midday.
Some have the custom to daven early, wash for Kiddush early as breakfast, and then count lunch as the third meal.
Some communities or Yeshivot also have the custom every week to wash for Kiddush straight after davening, have a light non-meat meal, and then have a heavier meat meal in the afternoon for the third meal.
If there is a requirement that the meal needs to specifically be for shabbos, simply replacing breakfast is probably not sufficient.
On the other hand, if all that is required is to fulfill the technical Mitzva of eating 3 meals on shabbos, then one has clearly done so.
A third possibility is that one can fulfill the basic Mitzva just by fulfilling the technical requirement, but that it is a מצוה מין המובחר (higher level of performing the Mitzva) to make sure that one actually has a meal one would not normally eat during the week.
A further look at our sugya shows that the requirement to eat 3 meals on shabbos is derived according to Rabbi Yochanan from the repetition of the word יום ( day) 3 times , in the passuk containing the instruction to eat מן (Manna) gathered the day before shabbos on shabbos.
The passuk reads (Shmos 16/25):
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אִכְלֻ֣הוּ הַיּ֔וֹם כִּֽי־שַׁבָּ֥ת הַיּ֖וֹם לַיקֹוָ֑ק הַיּ֕וֹם לֹ֥א תִמְצָאֻ֖הוּ בַּשָּׂדֶֽה:
(“and Moshe said, eat it today, for today is Shabbos for Hashem, today you will not find it in the field.”)
A Beraita is brought showing the view of the Chachamim that one is required to eat 3 meals on shabbos, but also cites the view of Rabbi Chidka that one is required to eat FOUR meals on shabbos.
Rabbi Yochanan explains that Rabbi Chidka’s view is based on the same passuk, but given that the requirement is based on the word היום (the day), 3 meals in the day are required, in addition to the one held at night!
The Gemara challenges both views with a Mishna which says that someone who has enough food for 14 meals (one week) is not considered poor enough to collect money from the קופה (charity collection).
If one really needs to have 3 or 4 meals on shabbos, surely the cutoff point should be 15 or 16 meals, not only 14?
The Gemara explains that according to Chachamim, we can simply tell him to have his Saturday night dinner while it is still shabbos and fulfill the Mitzva of שלוש סעודות that way.
This seems to imply that one is not required to have a special Melava Malka meal on Saturday night and that one can fulfill the mitzva of 3 meals on shabbos even if one simply has an early supper, strengthening the possibility that the 3 meals is an objective requirement and there is no obligation for the meal to be specifically for shabbos.
One could counter, however, that all that we see from here is that the requirement to have a meal specifically for shabbos is not מעכב (holding back) the fulfillment of the mitzva, and thus not enough of an obligation that we are required give him charity money for it. It could still be an obligatory part of the mitzva under normal circumstances, or at least a הדור מצוה (better way of doing the Mitzva.)
The Gemara then goes a step further and suggests that according to Rabbi Chidka, we could tell him to have his Friday daytime meal at night once shabbos is in, thus fulfilling one’s Friday evening obligation with his regular Friday dinner and still leaving 2 meals for Shabbos plus his Saturday night meal for the fourth shabbos meal. This possibility is rejected out of hand, seeing as it is not reasonable to expect him to fast all day on Erev Shabbos.
The Gemara then comes out with an idea that in today’s age of entitlement sounds truly unbelievable.
It says that both Chachamim and Rabbi Chidka follow the view of Rabbi Akiva that a person should rather make his shabbos like a weekday (regarding the food he eats) than take help from other people!
Rashi understands this to not only replace the suggestion that he eat his Friday meal on Friday night, but also the suggestion that he eat his Saturday meal early.
Instead, the Gemara understands that the obligation to eat 3 meals on shabbos (according to Chachamim) or 4 meals (according to Rabbi Chidka) only applies to one who has enough of his own money for them.
However, one who cannot afford 3 or 4 meals on shabbos should rather have only 2, just like on a weekday, rather than be a burden on others.
It follows that the Beraisa that talks about the criteria for charity has nothing to do with the requirements for a regular person to have 3 or 4 meals dedicated meals for shabbos, seeing as a person who needs charity should miss this mitzva rather than take charity!
We should note that this is despite the fact that missing the third meal on shabbos is considered so serious by Chazal that it is called עשה שבתך חול, making one’s shabbos into a weekday, clearly a strong admonishment against those who treat this meal lightly.
Without this special meal, the shabbos meal schedule is similar to during the week, and that is called “making one’s shabbos into a weekday!”
Although not a water-tight proof, this strong wording seems to support the view that it is not sufficient just to technically perform the obligation derived from the passuk to have three meals- the extra meal has to be noticeably in addition to the number of meals one has during the week.
As such, it indeed seems preferable that in today’s time, one should indeed be particular to have both Kiddush and Melava Malka, in order to make sure that his סעודה שלישית is not simply in place of breakfast or Saturday dinner.
However, this proof is not water-tight, and at the end of the day, the obligation to have a third meal is independently based by Chazal on a different passuk to the one from which we derive the obligation of honoring the shabbos.
As such, one could probably be lenient on Erev Pesach given that it is שעת הדחק (unusually difficult circumstances), and fulfill one’s second meal with a “breakfast Kiddush” and third meal with an early lunch, if none of the other suggested solutions are appropriate.
It would however seem preferable for shuls and yeshivos not to make a regular practice of it on regular Shabbatot in order to make sure that the third meal is indeed noticeable as something one would not eat during the week- one certainly gains an element of the Mitzva of honoring the shabbos that way, even if it is not an intrinsic part or even an embellishment of the Mitzva of the three meals.
Perhaps those Rabbis and Rashei Yeshiva who do advocate the kiddush/lunch model hold that there is no such requirement whatsoever for there to be quantitively more meals on shabbos than during the week but there is rather simply a technical requirement to eat 3 meals on shabbos, regardless of how many one eats during the week.
Or perhaps, they hold that so long as the extra meal is qualitatively better than it would be during the week, as a lavish Kiddush/lunch could be compared to a regular breakfast, that is sufficient to make it noticeably for shabbos.
In any case, two undebatable messages from this discussion is that
- The third Shabbos meal is in some ways the most important of the shabbos meals, and not to be taken lightly
- One is supposed to do one’s best to avoid being a burden on the community, and whereas one is permitted to take charity when one really needs it for one’s basic needs, even a mitzva like the third shabbos meal, which is SO intrinsic to the honor of Shabbos is NOT enough of a reason to do so .
(p.s. the 4 cups of wine on Pesach is indeed an exception due to the addition aspect of publicizing the mitzva- see Ran on our sugya who makes this distinction.)
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.