Shabbat Shalom! – Nitzavim

We are near the end of the Torah, and near the end of the Jewish year. Moses’ farewell to his people, Nitzavim, comes at a fitting time, just after we said goodbye to President Shimon Peres of Israel, another great leader.

I am dealing with a family crisis this week, and so y’all are on your own to find divrei Torah. I have faith in you. Check the Rabbis Who Blog on this website. Search your favorite search engine. Go to services!

I shall write again soon.

Anti-anxiety Shabbat – coping during these difficult days — Rabbi John Rosove’s Blog

Image: Sunset from my back porch. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

I love this post from Rabbi John Rosove. If you have been feeling anxious and are wondering how to cope, give it a read:

No one should be surprised that so many Americans feel anxious these days. Consider all that’s happened in the last 16 years, the cumulative effect of which has led to the state of our national psyche today: The contested 2000 Presidential election – the rise of Al Qaeda, international terrorism and 9/11 – the Afghan […]

via Anti-anxiety Shabbat – coping during these difficult days — Rabbi John Rosove’s Blog

What’s the BIGGEST Jewish Holiday?

Image: A woman covers her eyes as she recites the blessing for lighting Shabbat candles. Photo thanks to Dawn Kepler, who retains all rights.

Some will tell you it’s Passover. In America, that’s the most observed Jewish holiday.

Some will tell you it’s Yom Kippur because that’s what they have heard.

Some will tell you Chanukah, because that’s the only Jewish holiday they know.

Some will tell you it’s the High Holy Days, because — well, “High Holy,” right?

All wrong.

The BIGGEST Jewish holiday is…. Shabbat!

What? you might say. “It comes once a week! How can it be the biggest Jewish holiday?”

But it says so, right in the Kiddush* for Shabbat Evening:

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
Creator of the fruit of the vine.

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe
who finding favor with us, sanctified us with mitzvot.
In love and favor, You made the holy Shabbat our heritage
as a reminder of the work of Creation.
As first among our sacred days, it recalls the Exodus from Egypt.
You chose us and set us apart from the peoples.
In love and favor You have given us Your holy Shabbat as an inheritance.

– from “Shabbat Blessings” at http://www.Reform

“As first among our sacred days” — and so it is.

Shabbat is so important that it is never cancelled by another holiday. Other days, like Yom Kippur, may happen on Shabbat, but they never happen instead of Shabbat.

The Kiddush also tells us why Shabbat is so important. It is a memorial of the Creation and a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt.

The heaven and earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work which God had been doing, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work which God had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation which God had done.

–Genesis 2: 1-3.

At the end of the work of Creation, God rested. Then, at Sinai, God gave our people a commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Adonai your God: you shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth and sea, all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day; therefore Adonai has blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

– Exodus 20:8-11

and the commandment is repeated, with different wording and a different rationale, in Deuteronomy:

Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as Adonai your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Adonai your God: you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox of your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Adonai your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Adonai your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

– Deuteronomy 5: 12-15

So there, in the two accounts of the 10 Commandments, we have the rationale of Creation and that of the Exodus, both of which are mentioned in the Kiddush blessing. That’s another reason I can say with confidence that Shabbat is the BIGGEST Jewish holiday: it’s the only one mentioned in the 10 Commandments!

Jews disagree about the best way to keep Shabbat. Some Jews head to synagogue, some to the seashore. Some make sure to touch base with loved ones. Others make sure not to touch a cell phone. How you choose to observe this holiday (holy day) is up to you.

More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel.

Ahad Ha’Am (Asher Ginsberg)

*”Kiddush” is a special blessing for a holiday – think of it as a toast. We hold up our glasses of wine or juice and we say or sing the kiddush. There is a kiddush for every major holiday, and this is the kiddush for Shabbat.


Low-Stress Shabbat Dinner

I like to invite my students to Shabbat dinner at my home. It’s a low-stress way for them to experience the rituals of Shabbat, and a chance to just hang out and chat. It’s also a chance for me to meet their families, if they choose to include them.

However, there are challenges. Many of my students are vegetarians or vegans, so the menu needed to account for that. I needed a main dish that everyone could enjoy and that wasn’t too expensive. I finally settled on something that was a treat for me, and a novelty for many Californians: Hoppin’ John, a dish of black eyed peas and rice, seasoned with onions and spices, and with an assortment of hot sauces on the table for those who enjoy a little heat.

I needed to keep the work to a reasonable level. Cooking a big meal for as many as twenty people was just too much for me, so I make the rest of the meal potluck. For side dishes and desserts, I ask the students to bring a dish if they can.

I buy the challah from a local bakery. I could make it, but I’m hoarding my energy to play host later in the evening, remember?

The table is deliberately simple: white cloth, plates, silverware, candlesticks, challah plate and cover. Cups for wine or grape juice. Matches where I can find them.

Once people begin to arrive, the evening pretty much runs itself. They are excited to see one another, and curious to see what everyone brought. Some enjoy rummaging through the hot sauce tray, looking for interesting things. We light candles, I make kiddush, we make motzi, and we have a lovely meal. At the end, we bless and clean up. I send leftovers home with anyone who wants (thank goodness for Ziplock bags) and by then I am ready to fall into bed!

It’s not hard. It need not be a production. Why not call some friends and give it a try?

A Post During Shabbat?

Sometimes I debate leaving messages here to post over Shabbat. I worry that I’m sending the wrong message about Shabbat, that I’m encouraging people to use the computer or to work on the holy day.

However, this blog isn’t for the talmid chacham (the person very wise in the life of Torah.) I like to have something scheduled to post for the person who is alone and lonely over Shabbat, and for the newcomer to Judaism who isn’t organized for Shabbat quite yet. Maybe Shabbat has been working on your heart to bring you to look for Jewish content during this time, or maybe you know it is Shabbat and you’re interested and don’t know what to do.

And of course, some of you will find it after Shabbat is over, and that’s fine too.

Feel free to browse around. I’ve got some messages marked “Especially for Beginners” (see drop-down menu to the right on your screen) and those may be particularly helpful. Just make yourself at home.

I hope that you have a blessed Shabbat, whatever that means for you right now, wherever you are in your own personal Jewish journey. You’re welcome here.

Shabbat Shalom!

Be a GREAT Shabbat Dinner Guest!

You’re going to your first Shabbat [Sabbath] dinner.  Perhaps you are worried: what’s expected?  Here are five suggestions to help you be a great Shabbat dinner guest:

1.  ASK QUESTIONS:  Every family has their own customs about Shabbat dinner.  Some are very formal, some equally informal.  Asking a few questions ahead of time is essential.

What should I wear?  Dress will differ from household to household, so ask.  You don’t want to be the only one at the table in blue jeans, or in pearls, for that matter!

May I bring anything?  The answer to that may be “Yes, bring —-” or it may be “just yourself!”  If you are asked to bring something, be sure and ask if they would like it to be kosher, or if there are any restrictions you should know about:  allergies, etc.  Better to ask than to show up with something lethal, right?  And even if the answer is “just yourself” it is nice to show up with flowers.  Not required, but nice.

Finally, it is fine to ask questions about the prayers, the food, or the objects you see as the evening progresses.    Some things (a kiddush cup, for example, or a recipe) may come with family stories.

2.  BE ON TIME.  Your hosts may be juggling the hour of sundown, service times at their synagogue, hungry toddlers or other variables.  Shabbat dinner is not a time to be “fashionably late.” I cannot over-stress this: be on time!

3.  DON’T WORRY ABOUT HEBREW.  The dinner may begin with candle lighting and blessings over wine and bread.  If you are not Jewish, you do not have to participate, just listen quietly and observe.  If you feel awkward just listening, you have the option of saying “Amen,” (ah-MAYN) at the end of prayers.

Don’t worry that you do not speak Hebrew. No one expects you to know it at your first Shabbat dinner! There may or may not be Hebrew prayers or songs in Hebrew. As for singing, if you don’t know the words, or don’t sing much, that’s OK.  Enjoy the singing and don’t stress over it.

4.  COMMUNICATE!  Shabbat dinner is not just about food.  It is also about taking time to enjoy one another’s company. Treat each person at the table as if you expect to learn something important from them. Contribute to the conversation when you have something to say. In many Jewish households, friendly dispute is welcome at the table, but keep the tone friendly! Off color jokes and off color language are completely out of place at the Shabbat dinner table. When in doubt, save it for another time.

5.  SAY THANK YOU.  Write your host afterward and thank them for including you.  Email is common these days, but if you would like to make the best possible impression, a written note is best. When you host your own Shabbat dinner (or a similar event from your own tradition) return the invitation!

No Nagging Shabbat

So you have heard about Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. What you heard sounded very good, but the logistics are intimidating: no cooking, no electricity on and off, no work of any kind, no electronics. You look at your family and wonder how you are going to sell them on this idea.

Stop. Let me tell you about how I began to keep Shabbat more than 20 years ago.

It was about the time I began to study for conversion to Judaism. My enthusiasm was building, even though the other members of my family weren’t interested in going to services. I wanted to have some Shabbat at home, too.

My children were middle school age, so we were often frustrated with one another. Their rooms were disaster areas, they preferred wearing old rags to clothes, they were not industrious students, and I felt responsible for them.  There were a number of areas where it seemed that all I did was nag, nag, nag and I was sick of it.

One afternoon inspiration hit.

I had been reading The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel when suddenly light dawned: I knew what I wanted first for our “cathedral in time:” I wanted all the nagging to stop. I wanted to take a break from it, I wanted them to take a break from it, and I wanted us all to have as happy a Shabbat as possible. So that’s what I did: sat them down and declared a No Nagging Zone from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. They were skeptical.

“No nagging at all?” the younger one said, “Even about my homework?”

“No nagging at all. I can resume reminding you at sundown. But get this: you can’t nag either: no whining to go to the store, or to take you to the movies, or whatever. You can ask, but no whining or nagging. If anyone tries something that feels like nagging to us, all we have to do is say, ‘Shabbat.'” They looked at each other and shrugged: yep, she’s lost her mind.

Over time, it became a habit. If I mentioned “homework” or “making your bed” or later “college applications” they’d look at me and say simply, “Shabbat, mom.” I’d back off (until sundown.) We all relaxed. We began to look forward to Shabbat. Conversations happened on Shabbat, because all the nagging options were closed.

Later I began to decide how I was going to keep Shabbat in other ways: what was “work” for me, and what kind of observance would align me with my Jewish community. But that first step towards the peace of Shabbat was maybe the best.

We say “Shabbat Shalom” and it’s worth pausing a moment to think about what that really means. Do we invite peace into our homes? Do we relax? Is Shabbat a time when family can become closer? For some families that happens with food and routines and traditional observance, but for me and mine it began with the No Nagging Zone.

What was your first step in beginning to keep Shabbat? If you grew up with Shabbat, what is your earliest memory of it?