What if, for one day, we were slaves to nothing and no one? How would our lives be different?
That is the premise of Shabbat: the seventh day, the day of rest, the day when even God rested from the work of Creation. The problem of Shabbat, often, is that many of us are intimidated by the idea of a full-on shomer Shabbat experience. It’s just too much change, all at once, if you are starting at or near zero.
Instead, I’m offering you seven options for letting a little Shabbat into your own life. These are things that have worked for me and for my family. They may need to be modified for you and your family. You may only want to try ONE of them, or one of them may inspire you to your own path to Shabbat. That’s OK.
[For a more traditional set of information about Shabbat at home, there are excellent articles on My Jewish Learning.]
1. SHABBAT DINNER. What is dinner like at your house on an ordinary day? What would make it better? The answer to that will differ from one household to another. What if there were candles on Friday night? What if there were agreement ahead of time that there would be no criticizing or nagging? What if there were guests? What if no one had to cook, if it were all take-out? What if you used the good dishes? If any of these things sound like “work” to you, don’t go there, at least at first. Do something that makes you feel that you could say, “Tonight we are slaves to no one and nothing.”
2. TURN OFF THE CELL PHONE. Have you ever ignored someone right in front of you, perhaps someone you love, because something on the cell phone was Very Important Right Now? Not everyone can turn off their cell phone. Some are doctors on call, after all. But if you can, consider turning off the cell phone and try some old-fasioned conversation. Or just look and listen. Rabbi Micah Streiffer wrote recently about Shabbat as a remedy for Information Overload.
3. REACH OUT TO FAMILY. Shabbat can be a great time to reach out to family who are distant, maybe even as a routine. Do you have a child at college? A sister or a parent in another city? A brother with a busy life on the other side of town? If family is in town, but you never get together any more, maybe get together for a meal.
4. REACH OUT TO FRIENDS. When did you last hang out with your best friend? What about inviting them (and their family?) for dinner and board games? What about a Saturday afternoon bike ride, or hike in the park? If you have friends who celebrate Shabbat, ask them if you can join them for part of it, to get a taste of it. It really is OK to ask, as long as your are willing to take “no” for an answer.
5. GET SOME SLEEP. According to the L.A. Times, 75 million Americans do not get enough sleep. A Shabbat afternoon nap will not make up for a week of 4 hour nights, but it can go a long way to bring some shalom, some wholeness, back into life. Or instead of staying up to watch Leno or Ferguson or any of those late-night comics, turn in early on Friday night!
6. MOVE FOR JOY. Go to a park and play! Ride your bike! Play tag with your kids! Roughhouse with your dog! Get outdoors, find some nature, or unroll the yoga mat for a leisurely session of pure catlike pleasure. Get back in touch with your body. Get back in touch with your spouse’s body. We are created beings, physical beings, and it is not good for us to live in our heads all the time.
7. GATHER WITH OTHER JEWS. Gather with other Jews for Shabbat, at synagogue or the Jewish Community Center. If your town doesn’t have a synagogue or JCC, find out where the Jews gather. If services don’t speak to you, try Torah Study – many synagogues have a Torah Study group that meets on Shabbat, and it is often a group of friendly people who enjoy a bagel and a good discussion. Jewish life and Jewish learning is always richer in company.
These are just seven little possibilities. Follow your heart, follow the hearts in your household. Every family keeps Shabbat in its own way; if you begin the journey, something wonderful awaits!