Ask the Rabbi: What Should a Guest Bring to Shabbat?

Ask the RabbiSomeone typed “what to bring to shabbat as a guest” into the search engine to get to my blog this morning. I hope they found a post with the answer, but I thought this deserved a post of its own.

A gift is not strictly necessary. A thank you note, however, is the proper thing to do afterwards.

If your friends keep kosher, all of these make a nice gift to take to a Shabbat meal:

  • flowers (the safest choice by far)
  • an unopened box of kosher candy or cookies
  • an unopened bottle of kosher grape juice

If you are certain your hosts do not keep kosher, add to that list:

  • a bottle of wine
  • a bottle of grape juice
  • some small table item, like a trivet

Flowers are always your safest choice. The reason I say that is that even if you bring kosher food or drink, and you bring it unopened, the hecksher (rabbinical seal) may not be one your kosher host recognizes. If you stick with flowers, you can’t go wrong unless they are allergic to those flowers.

Do NOT take to a kosher home:

  • homemade food of any kind
  • wine of any kind
  • dishes
  • kosher food that has had the seal broken

Just take my word for it. Kosher kitchens are important to those who keep them and these things create complications, no matter how well meant they are.

Last but not least: if you don’t take something, that isn’t the end of the world. Write a paper (not email) thank-you note afterwards, and all will be well. Actual thank you notes are much rarer than wine or trivets, and they tend to be remembered for a long, long time.

Shabbat shalom!

If you have a question for a rabbi, click “Ask the Rabbi” at the top of this page, and I will do my best to answer your question! No question is “stupid” and you can rest sure that someone else wants to know, too. You are doing a mitzvah by asking!

 

 

 

 

The Torah of the Bread Machine

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The Terrifying Bread Machine at work.

I studied a bit of practical Torah today with a woman who has been my friend for years. She was my conversion mentor (not my rabbi, just a friend who showed me the ropes) and since then we have become friends and partners in teaching. I still look to her when a bit of practical home-based Judaism is tricky for me.

A year ago (a year ago!) she gave me a bread machine as a housewarming gift. I have always made bread by hand, and was suspicious of machines. I am also very busy, especially on Fridays, and so I bought my challah at the store, because I was afraid of the bread machine. I decided “Enough of that nonsense!” and asked Dawn to teach me how to use the terrifying bread machine.

Yes, I am making fun of myself. It is ridiculous for a grown woman of nearly sixty years to be afraid of using a bread machine. I am pretty sure – almost certain – that it will not blow up. Dawn assures me that it won’t. And it is not a crime to use a machine to allow me to do other things.

I know for sure the challah that comes out will be good – Dawn uses the same machine! I love her challah!

How do you get your challah? Do you bake it? Make it with a machine’s help? Buy it from a particular store? Make it with your children or friends?

Has there ever been a mitzvah you were afraid to try because you might mess up?

Anyway, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom, and tasty challah however you obtain it!

 

Shabbat Shalom!

rest area

It was quite a week.

I had another near-disaster on the freeway. The alternator died, with the result that by the time I was able to get off the road and stop, it was just me, 2 tons of car, and the laws of physics. Still a good day because I lived to tell about it.

Friends have had unhappy things happen: serious bicycle accidents, skunks under the house, car accidents, failures of technology with consequences, illness.

The Jewish People have had a hard week: violence in Jerusalem, rising anti-Semitism in Europe, nasty stuff on the internet. We remembered a very difficult week 19 years ago, when we lost Yitzhak Rabin, one of our heroes.

We are coming up on an anniversary this weekend: the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  If you don’t know about it, or are only vaguely clear about it (“a Holocaust thing”) then follow the link and read about it. We should reflect upon it before slinging around the word “Nazi.”

Many heavy burdens to carry, but tonight the sun will go down, and we will welcome the Sabbath in all her glory. Let those burdens drop from our shoulders, take a deep breath, and let us welcome the peace, if only for a little while.

If we make our best effort to experience the Sabbath, perhaps we can carry some of that peace into the week that follows.

Kein y’hi ratzon: May it be the will of the Eternal. Amen.

Crock Pot Shabbat

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This week I have no time. The faster I go, the worse it gets. I am behind on so many things, and Shabbat is coming. What to do?

One option is something I just did: Crock Pot Shabbat. That means I take whatever I have that will make a good soup, a really good soup, I put it in the crock pot and the crock pot will take care of dinner. Tonight’s offering:

4 potatoes, cut into chunks

1 lb ground beef, browned

3 onions, sliced

1 bunch of celery, sliced

1 bunch of collard greens, sliced into ribbons

1 32oz box of chicken stock

Dump all ingredients into crock pot. Set to cook on low for 6 hours.

 

Add one challah, and a couple of glasses of wine. Hineh! (Voilá!) Shabbat dinner.

Variations:

  • If you are vegetarian or vegan, adjust ingredients accordingly.
  • Chopped tomatoes are good in it.
  • If you like, you can add an envelope of “beef stew seasoning” or similar for flavor.
  • If you are more domestic than I, make your own broth.
  • If you are even less domestic than I, it is not strictly necessary to brown the meat.

The point is, you dump the ingredients in, and there is no more work. Cleanup is limited.

Shabbat shalom!

Growing into Shabbat

Shabbat on a card table.
Shabbat on a card table.

How does a person begin to keep Shabbat?

Maybe you’ve read a description of Shabbat observance, and found it overwhelming or just plain impossible. Or perhaps you had relatives who did observe Shabbat, and the way they went about it left you feeling that it was a burden, not a joy.

And now it’s Elul, and the High Holy Days are coming, and perhaps some of you are thinking that you’d LIKE to keep Shabbat, but… (you fill in the blank.)

So let me suggest another approach. If you want to keep Shabbat, pick ONE THING on this list that you aren’t already doing.

1. Light candles Friday night.

2. Set aside some part of Friday night or Saturday for a family meal.

3. Go to services at a nearby synagogue.

4. Set aside the 24 hours of Shabbat as a “no-nagging” time zone, or maybe just Friday night.

5. Read a commentary or d’var Torah on this week’s Torah portion. (You can find it here.)

6. Call or write to someone you love.

7. Do something you don’t usually give yourself time to do: take a walk in nature, for instance.

8. Have wine or juice with dinner Friday night, and say a blessing (English is fine.)

9. Turn off your cell phone and/or computer for part or all of the day.

10. Choose not to do any shopping from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Let whatever it is wait.

Now, try that ONE THING it out this Shabbat. Afterwards, ask yourself:

How did that feel? Do I want to do it again?

If so, do it again. If not, pick something else on the list and try it. Later, you can add something, when you are ready. Add no more than one thing at a time.

This is how a person grows into Shabbat.

 

 

 

 

 

This Shabbat, I’m grateful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the last several weeks, every time we’ve gotten to Shabbat I’ve thought, “WHEW! Glad that week is behind me!” and I’ve thought naively that surely next week will be better. Here I am again, with the WHEW, but I find that I’m learning to find the things for which I am grateful even if they are small.

I am grateful that Captain Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol has shown such humanity and genius in his approach to the people of Ferguson. May we all learn from him!

I am grateful for cease fires in Israel, Gaza and everywhere, however long they can last.

I am grateful for journalists, even though they inform me of scary stuff.

I am grateful for my opportunity this past June to meet Rivka Selah z”l, a beautiful soul who departed this week, mother of a dear friend and mother-in-law of another.

I am grateful for all the small blessings of the week: for the gorgeous sunshine pouring in my windows, for the cucumbers and tomatoes growing in my garden, for the hummingbirds who put on a continual carnival in the back yard. I am grateful for zinnias and milkweed and those weird strong tendrils that help grape vines climb.

I am grateful for the friends who got in touch after reading my blog post on depression. I am doing OK, and all those caring friends are a part of that.

I am grateful for a number of things that confidentiality bars me from posting anywhere public. I am grateful for work that I love, and for students who learned from me, and who taught me wonderful things.

I am grateful for my sons. They rock. And for my beloved spouse, and for the little dogs who snuggle and dance and make us laugh.

I am grateful for my synagogue, Temple Sinai, where I will go to services tonight and count more blessings, and hear familiar words, and sing familiar songs with people I’ve known for years.

I am grateful for the blessings I haven’t noticed yet. May the peace of Shabbat make them apparent to me.


Shabbat shalom!

How Can We Rejoice, When the News is Terrible?

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Shabbat approaches, and yet the world is in terrible shape this week. We are commanded to rejoice on Shabbat and at “appointed times,” but how is such a thing possible? Isn’t joy an emotion?

The Torah has many subtle lessons about human psychology. True, when someone is sad, telling them, “Be happy!” or worse yet, “Smile!” is stupid and cruel. However, what the Torah commands is not emotion.

The commandment is to engage in activities that bring delight (oneg.) On Shabbat, we are commanded to eat well, to eat three meals, to light candles, to say blessings, and to rest. These are also activities that will help to reduce the stress in our bodies. Good food in reasonable quantities can be enormously restorative. Lighting candles delights the eyes. Saying blessings encourages us to notice things outside ourselves, to wake up to tastes and smells and experiences. And most of all, rest is healing to the whole person, body and spirit.

Mourners are not expected to be light-hearted. Rather, days of rejoicing give them a break from the activities of mourning (shiva, etc). When we see a kriah ribbon or a torn jacket, the rest of us know that this person needs to be treated gently, that they are not in a festive mood. Still they participate in the delight of the day, such as the Shabbat meal, because ultimately the purpose of the mourning period is to draw the mourner gently back into the life of community.

When you hear someone talk about oneg Shabbat, the delight of Shabbat, know that it doesn’t necessarily mean “delight” in the giggly, partying sense. Shabbat is not a magic Wonderland. It is a chance to rest, to heal, to gather our resources, to be with friends and family, to be restored. Sometimes that will look like a party and but usually it will be much quieter.

If traditional mitzvot are not your thing, try “rejoicing” by treating yourself with love and care. Eat well. Exercise. Let the Torah portion carry you beyond your own personal concerns.

During this difficult time let’s use the commandments of Shabbat to give ourselves respite from the hateful aspects of the news and internet. It is also a good time to think about means for alleviating the suffering of others.

Unplug from the world, plug into the best of our tradition, so that when the holy day is over, we will be refreshed and ready to do our best in the week to come.

May all those who are suffering find respite, and may the Sabbath bride bring wisdom and insight to all in leadership. Amen.