Overwhelmed by Shabbat?

January 24, 2014

2898151773_e0d5a0c656Shabbat begins tonight at sundown.

Some of us are already preparing: cleaning house, making challah, shopping.

And some of us feel overwhelmed at the idea of Shabbat: special dinner, Hebrew blessings, day of rest, no driving/money/shopping/etc…

If you are feeling overwhelmed, just stop.  Let that go.

Make Shabbat the day that you put down burdens, including the burden of a “perfect Shabbat.”

Some suggestions for an imperfect (but blessed!) Shabbat. Choose one, and see how it feels:

  • Make this Shabbat a day with “One meal together” in my home, with takeout if cooking is stressful.
  • This Shabbat, I will light candles and let that be enough.
  • For all or part of Shabbat, electronics OFF in my home.
  • From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, “No Nagging” in my home.
  • This Shabbat, I will go to synagogue for one service and just take it in. No judgments, no expectations.
  • This Shabbat, no shopping or errands. Whatever it is, it can wait.
  • This Shabbat, to any worries, say “Let that wait until sundown on Saturday.”
  • This Shabbat, tell each family member personally, “I love you.”

No, these are not traditional Shabbat observances. But when we feel overwhelmed by a mitzvah, then it is time to go back to the very basics. Try one or more of these, and see how you feel.  Let Shabbat be a day when you lay your burdens down.

May the peace of Shabbat enter our homes and our hearts!

 

Image: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by RahelSharon

Shabbat Preparation, Step 1

January 17, 2014

Sometimes we speak of Shabbat as “a taste of the world to come.” But what does that mean? Specifically, what does it mean for you and those in your household?

Whether your household is shomer Shabbes [traditionally observant] or just beginning to think about the idea of Shabbat, this is a question we can ask: what would a perfect world be like? And how can we arrange to make 24 hours of it in our home?

It might involve traditional observance. To learn more about that, go to the Orthodox Union’s guide for keeping Shabbat. It might mean some modification of traditional Shabbat, or even a new approach to Shabbat.

But before you engage in a lot of activity, ask yourself: what would my home be like, in a perfect world? What would the relationships in it be like? What would I be like? And that will tell you a lot of things: it will tell you what preparations you need to make for Shabbat, and it will guide you in the things you need to let go of for Shabbat.

When I prepare for Shabbat, I try to make sure we have good things to eat. I like for things to be beautiful and clean, although sometimes “cleaner than usual” has to fill the bill. On a deeper level, I long for it to be an environment without stupid arguments – and to get that, I have to let go of my end of the stupid arguments, for 24 hours. I long for it to be a time for enjoying relationships with family and friends, so I need to do everything in my power to remove impediments to that, which means I must let go of my desire to control other people’s behavior, for 24 hours.

What do you do to prepare for Shabbat? What do you need in your home for Shabbat?


Havdalah: A Sweet Finish to Shabbat

December 31, 2013

Observing the Sabbath-closing havdalah ritual ...

We begin Shabbat with candles, and blessings, and wine. (For a complete description, read 8 Easy Steps to a Simple Shabbat Dinner.) Those activities mark the beginning of zman kodesh, holy time. There is also a ceremony for the close of Shabbat which is less well known (meaning, I don’t know of any movies or TV shows that have featured it – observant Jews know about it.) That ceremony is Havdalah, which means “Division.” With a second group of blessings, with candles, wine, and one other addition, we close out the zman kodesh (holy time) and return to zman chol (ordinary time) by making a clear division between the two.

How to make Havdalah

Havdalah Candle

Havdalah Candle

You need some special things for this:

  • A candle with multiple wicks (not available at the nearest Hallmark store – check at a local Judaica shop or online for a havdalah candle.)
  • Spices: could be cinnamon, or cloves, or a sprig from a rosemary bush. Some people have special spice boxes.
  • A glass of wine, not your best crystal (you’ll see why in a minute.)
  • Matches

Havdalah may be made anytime after 3 stars are visible in the night sky after Shabbat, OR at the time listed on a Jewish calendar as “Havdalah.” So look for the stars, or check the time. When it’s time, light the candle.

Rather than type out the blessings here, I am going to direct you to an excellent YouTube video produced by Moishe House, which presents the blessings in karaoke style just as you need them, set to the tune by Debbie Friedman z”l.

First, we say the blessing over wine, the same blessing we made before Kiddush at the beginning of Shabbat.

Second, we say the blessing over spices, and smell the spices. This reminds us to “take in” the holiness of Shabbat and bring it with us into the week.

Third, we say the blessing over the fire of the candle. You will see some people checking their fingernails over the light – it’s just a way of doing “work” by the light of the candle, or seeing the division of light and dark. It’s just a custom: do it if you want, don’t worry about it if you’d rather not.

Fourth, we take up the cup again and sing a blessing about the division between dark and light, holy and ordinary. Some take a sip of the cup at this time. Then we extinguish the candle IN the wine, and listen to the sizzle. (This is the reason you don’t use crystal.)

Finally, we sing songs about Elijah the Prophet (who, legend says, will come at the end of Shabbat and bring the Messiah) and a song wishing everyone a Shavuah Tov, a good week.

And we’re done.

Why Make Havdalah

Part of the power of Shabbat is the contrast to the rest of our lives. It makes sense, then, not to let it “fizzle out” but to mark and celebrate its closing. I find that I often have a burst of energy after Havdalah – suddenly all those things I’ve been resolutely not doing during Shabbat are crying out to be done, and I have energy for them!

Havdalah can also be useful for making a clear boundary between Shabbat and activities that are not shabbatlik, suitable for Shabbat. If a Jewish organization plans to have an activity Saturday night that would include things they don’t do on Shabbat, like handling money, making Havdalah is a way of underlining that it is no longer Shabbat.

Here’s the Moishe House video, with music performed by Elana Jagoda:

 


Mixed Feelings

December 13, 2013
Shabbat potluck dinner at JFC

Shabbat potluck dinner (Photo credit: otir_im)

Shabbat is coming with such mixed feelings this week.

On the one hand — SHABBAT!  Shabbat is a day of rest, a day of blessing, a day of holiness.  Shabbat!

On the other hand — this Shabbat will be the 1st anniversary of the Newtown massacre. All those children, all those teachers, mown down because … why? We will never know why a disordered young man murdered his mother and all those people. All we know is that a year later, nothing has changed. You can still get a gun without a background check, and there’s still darn little we care to do for people in the depths of a mental health crisis, or for their families. (Yes, I know how he got the guns. I still want that loophole closed, because I want it to be more difficult for people with mental health problems and/or felony records to get guns. Nor do I plan to debate this in comments.)

And on yet another hand — this week I will have my first real Shabbat Open House, the one where I have sent an email to a few of my students and said, “let’s hang out.” I know that some are planning to come. Don’t know about the others. The idea is to just “be” from 3 until havdalah, enjoying each others’ company, playing games, maybe studying, maybe not.  I’ll report back, I promise!

May your Shabbat be a Shabbat of blessing, peace, and remembrance!


Chanukat HaBayit

December 1, 2013
Lighting the Menorahs at the End of the Housewarming

Lighting the Menorahs at the End of the Housewarming

I’m feeling tired and happy. A lot of work came to fruition in the past few days.

First, I came very close to my goal of posting to this blog every day for the month of November, despite the move, despite everything. I missed one day near the beginning, but otherwise, good.  I think the alternative was letting it lie fallow while I went crazy with everything else.

Second, we had the housewarming, the first Shabbat Afternoon Open House. The whole neighborhood was here, and a lot of students, friends, family. Our “Abraham’s tent” with four sides open wide is launched. I’ll continue blogging what I learn about doing Judaism with friends, teaching the process of keeping a hospitable Jewish home.

What did I learn yesterday? That not everything has to be perfect. There were a number of things that were not picture perfect, but that was OK. People had a good time. The neighbors had a chance to compare notes on Linda and me, on the house, and to update each other on all the news. My students know how to find me now, and they are looking forward to classes here at the house. My friends were here with love and support.

We finished the day with havdalah (hahv-dah-LAH) and menorah lighting, very appropriate. Chanukah means “Dedication” – it’s a memorial of the rededication of the Temple long ago – and yesterday was a celebration and dedication of our new home.

Welcome!


pause

November 23, 2013
English: Meditation

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

pause

 

take it in

 

just

              stop

 

to breathe

 

to smell

 

to feel your chest expand

 

and relax

 

listen

 

for the still

 

small

 

voice

 


The Lovely Lights of Shabbat

November 21, 2013
English: Silver candlesticks used for candle-l...

Silver candlesticks used for candle-lighting on the eve of Shabbat and Jewish holidays (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I went to a friend’s house for Shabbat dinner. She asked all of us to bring our candlesticks and candles with us, and as the sun sank in the sky, we lined them up on the dinner table and lit them! It was a beautiful display.

Every set of candlesticks had a story. Some of the stories were simple: “These were my mother’s,” and some were long and involved. Some came from Israel, some from Walgreens. One set came from eBay. Some were very fancy (the ones from eBay were silver and pre-war Polish) and some simple (one set had been made in religious school by a now-grown child).

I’ve lit Shabbat candles in lots of places. I’ve scrunched up aluminum foil for “candlesticks,” or lit tea lights, and when I was a chaplain in a nursing home, we had electric lights. There’s nothing quite like the glow of a real candle, but even the little electric lights said “Shabbat” to us.

As we look forward to lighting the Chanukah candles, let’s pause to enjoy our Shabbat candles this week. Chanukah is fun, but it only comes once a year. The faithful little flames of Shabbat are there for us week after week, bringing comfort and joy.

May your Shabbat be a time of true rest, before the razzle-dazzle of Chanukah and the preparation of the Thanksgiving feast.


Shabbat Isn’t Just Friday Night

November 8, 2013

Kiddush Lunch

Kiddush Lunch (Photo credit: jordansmall)

From the articles you see for beginners about “Keeping Shabbat,” you might get the idea that Friday night is the whole shooting match.  Not true!

Friday night is “Shabbat dinner,” true, and in many Reform synagogues, Friday night is the most-attended service, but Shabbat goes on until sundown on Saturday, and for me, Saturday can be the best part. Some things I love about Saturday and Shabbat:

  • Yes, the Saturday morning Torah service is long. It’s also beautiful, and we get to take the Torah out and march around with it and handle it and read from it. There are few more powerful ways to connect with our ancient past (more about Torah scrolls in a future post, I promise.)
  • Saturday kiddush lunch is the meal after the Saturday morning service. It might be at synagogue, or it might be at home. It starts with the kiddush (a toast to Shabbat, basically) and involves tasty food eaten in a leisurely fashion, preferably with friends. Yum.
  • Saturday afternoon is full of possibilities. For starters, there is Napping. Napping on Shabbat is glorious and decadent: it perhaps says better than anything that we are not slaves.
  • Saturday “naps” can also be put in quotations. If there is a time during the week when it is the accepted routine for the entire family to nap, that frees parents for affection and lovemaking. 
  • Saturday afternoon can also be a time for hanging out and chatting. Before electronics took over every nanosecond of our lives, when the world was young… you remember. Or not. But that world can come back for a little while on Saturday afternoon.
  • And then – let’s be real here – maybe your world is set up in such a way that Friday evening Shabbat, services or dinner, simply can’t be observed properly. If that is the case, then don’t despair – find some Shabbat on Saturday.

Maybe you have your own ideas for Shabbat afternoons – I invite you to share them in the comments section.  But whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you that Shabbat is only Friday night, because Friday night is only the beginning!


Opening the Tent of Hospitality

October 27, 2013
Shabbat on a card table.

Shabbat on a card table.

Yossi ben Yochanon from Jerusalem said: “Let your home be open wide to the multitudes. — Pirkei Avot 1:5

I posted last night just before Shabbat that we were going to have our first Shabbat dinner in our new home. It was wonderful! Our friend Dawn came, and we blessed and talked and had a wonderful time. The food was simple but it was eaten in the glow of Shabbat candles.

Now I grant you, having one of my oldest and dearest friends, someone I call “sister” to Shabbat dinner is hardly a wild act of hospitality. Still, it set a tone: we are not going to be hermits in that house, Linda and I. We are going to have guests at the table as often as we can. Food won’t be fancy (not with my cooking!) but it will be eaten with others.

I went looking for the source of the midrash that Abraham’s tent was open on four sides, and I found this article by Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg. It seems that in the commentary on the mishnah above, Pirkei Avot 1:5, the talmudic commentary gives the example of Job, whose home was open on four sides to all guests. He is then compared unfavorably to Abraham, who actually ran out on the road to welcome his guests in Genesis 18. If Abraham was even more hospitable than Job, then his tent was also open on four sides, or so the reasoning goes. The point is that hospitality is a mitzvah, an key part of being a Jew.

So we’ve begun. I’m sure it will be better when we have chairs for everyone and the oven actually works!


“Oy! What To Cook for Shabbat?” said the Non-Cook.

July 19, 2013
Shabbat Dinner Table

Shabbat Dinner Table (Photo credit: feministjulie)

I got a request this week from @farrahudell on Twitter: “How about 8 easy recipes next? I’m good on ritual, cooking not so much…”

Guess what – I am not much of a cook, either. I have a few things I do well, but that’s it.  The question behind the question, though, is one worth asking: what to do, if you are not a very good or a very confident cook? What if you hate to cook? Here are some ideas for those readers:

1. IT’S A TRADITION! - Is there a meal you and your household like and that you are comfortable cooking? Make that Shabbat dinner every week! If someone asks, tell them it is your tradition. If your tradition is to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for Shabbat, that’s lovely. A guest who criticizes the menu is way out of line: don’t invite them back. (If it is someone you must ask back, maybe add a green salad next time, or her favorite dessert.)

2. BUY A GOOD COOKBOOK – If you like to cook but don’t know any “Jewish” recipes, buy a cookbook! There are some great Jewish cookbook writers: Joan Nathan, Leah Koenig, Arthur Schwartz, to name a few. Epicurious.com offers a list of “Our Seven Favorite Jewish Cookbooks.” But also keep in mind that the food does not have to be a particular kind of “Jewish” food to be great for Shabbat. Jews have lived just about everywhere – the real question is, is it something your household enjoys?

3. FOLLOW A JEWISH FOOD BLOG – If you like to find your recipes online, and want something a bit less traditional-Ashkenazi, check out Michael Twitty’s Afroculinaria. Michael’s recipes make me want to cook. Even more, they make me want to eat.  There are lots of good Jewish food blogs – just browse around on wordpress.com or any of the other places bloggers do their thing.

4. ASK AT SYNAGOGUE - Suggest to your synagogue that a cooking class would be fun. Or just ask around and find out who’s a good cook, and ask him/her for some lessons. As Rabbi Hillel said in the first century, “The shy will not learn.” Ask!

5. JOIN WITH OTHERS - If your life is stressful and you’d really like to just “come to dinner” three Shabbats a month, what about forming a Shabbat chavurah? If you rotate among households, then it’s less work and everyone can pitch in together to do the dishes afterwards. Or rotate houses and bring potluck.

6. NO SHAME IN TAKEOUT – If you hate to cook, don’t have time to cook, or you don’t have anywhere to cook, there is no shame in takeout for Shabbat. Again, get something you like, that your household likes, and don’t stress over it. This is Shabbat, you’re supposed to enjoy it! Home made challah is lovely, but challah from the store isn’t bad, either. I recall one very special Shabbat dinner when we ate cheese pizza and  salad.

Also: keep in mind that through the centuries, while Jews have tried to make Shabbat dinner a special meal, sometimes it was also a very simple meal. Some of the nicest Shabbat dinners I’ve had were very plain: soup and challah, salad and challah, a roasted chicken and some salad, etc.

One last note, but an important one: Shabbat is not a time for scolding and nagging. It’s not a great time to introduce picky toddlers to new foods, or to insist that your 8 year old eat her Brussels sprouts. It’s absolutely not a time to nag someone whose diet you’d like to change, even with “hints.” Let it be a gentle time, with easy things to eat, pleasant conversation, and love.

This blog came about in response to someone who wanted recipes, and I’ve pretty much weaseled out of the recipes. (Trust me, you are not missing anything.) But here is one recipe I’ll share:

RABBI ADAR’S EASY CHICKEN SOUP

Count your guests, and put that many chicken thighs (with skin and bone) into a large pot (1 per guest.) Add one peeled and quartered onion, a handful of peppercorns, a small bunch of fresh dill, and some celery tops. Cover with water. Bring almost to a boil then simmer until the chicken is falling apart. Strain the whole thing through a sieve or cheesecloth, saving both the soup and the stuff you drained out. Pick the meat off the bones, chop it or tear it into manageable pieces and replace in the soup. Salt to taste. Serve.

Variations: At the end, you can add any of these to the soup:  (1) cooked noodles (2) chopped greens (bok choy, kale, etc.) (3) other vegetables.  Add enough veggies and it’s a one pot meal.

Whatever you decide, enjoy! Remember that Shabbat is for rest, for joy, for sharing. If your current practice leaves you feeling guilty, stressed-out, angry, or overwhelmed, it needs adjustment.  Do whatever you need to do to make Shabbat what it is meant to be, an oasis of joy and rest!


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