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I often hear that מוצאי שבת means "departure of the Sabbath," but it seems to me that the phrase for this should be צאת שבת (or יציאת שבת).

The phrase מוצאי שבת seems to me to mean המוצאים של שבת, which would literally be "the things of Shabbos that proceed forth." (I'm thinking of מוצא as in על כל מוצא פי ה' יחיה האדם.)

Am I understanding this correctly or am I missing something? If so, then what are the "things that proceed forth" and why is Saturday night called this?

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You mean wells? I think that is what מוצא means in the parenthetical pasuk. –  WAF Jan 31 '14 at 21:04
For what it's worth, in Modern Hebrew "מוצא" also means 'exit', 'way out'. In that context, I'd say "מוצאי שבת" would mean 'Shabbat's exit'( in the sense of 'the place/time where one exits the Shabbat'). The plural form could be used because the term is referring to an area of time after one exits the Shabbat, rather than the specific time one exits it. –  Tamir Evan Feb 2 '14 at 9:46
Tamir, I think you may be on to something here. מוצאי שבת in a more expansive sense includes the coming week up through Tuesday; i.e. one may recite הבדלה until then. –  Ephraim Feb 3 '14 at 6:50

2 Answers 2

This may be too much for an unsourced "drush" but here goes:

The אור החיים on the words כי ששת ימים עשה ה' את השמים ואת הארץ points out that the verse does not say בששת ימים but ששת ימים - not "in six days He created" rather "six days He created." He explains that when Hashem created the world, He gave it the "juice" for only those first six days, and Hashem continues to create the world for 6 days at a time, every Shabbos. Shabbos is the source of the creation, the השפעה, of the following week. Therefore we celebrate the events of the upcoming week on Shabbos (Shabbos Mevarchim, etc).

Therefore, every week is the תוצאה of the preceding Shabbos, and could be described as "things of Shabbos that proceed forth" - after Shabbos is the result of Shabbos.

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In the Selichos of the first day before Rosh Hashana we find במוצאי מנוחה קדמנוך תחלה, which is translated (Artscroll) "As [the day of] rest departs, we come before You first of all".

Also, one of the Zemiros which is sung after Shabbos starts with the words במוצאי יום מנוחה which the Artscroll Siddur translates as "At the departure of the day of contentment".

Thus מוצאי שבת would be translated as "the departing of Shabbos".

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