Sometimes I debate scheduling messages 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.” Or use the search box on the right to search for “beginners.” 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.
I do not remember the last time I was this desperate for Shabbat.
This has been a dreadful week, beginning with the bombing of the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Even though I did not know anyone present, the images that came streaming at me from the television, the computer, and even my smartphone were pixillated nightmares. Even though I was nowhere near Boston, have only been to Boston a few times in my life, it felt personal. I got angry, and made an appointment for a blood donation. I needed to act, rather than simply stew in stress hormones.
Random bits of horror in the news kept poking at me: ricin, the Senate’s choice about the gun loophole, news about local violence. It seemed to never stop.
Then, Wednesday night, when I got in my car at 9:30 pm after a class, I turned on the radio and learned about the factory explosion in West, Texas. A dear friend is the rabbi in Waco, just 20 miles distant, and I had no idea where she actually lives. I worried about her until she posted on facebook that she was OK.
That relief lasted only a few minutes, when the other details about the disaster began to sink in: 5 city blocks destroyed in a tiny Texas town. Volunteer firefighters were probably trapped in the exploding factory. Why was there a nursing home across the street? Why schools nearby?
I donated blood. This, I can do.
Then late last night, after another class, more violence, more weirdness, in Boston. I turned off the electronics and cleaned house. I thought about my sermon for this evening. I kept forgetting and turning something back on – and would turn it off again, because honestly, I’d had enough.
Douglas Rushkoff‘s new book, Present Shock, describes what has been going on with me this week. Events come pouring in faster than we can process them. Narratives fracture before they are even formed. Conspiracy theories multiply and divide. Email, facebook, twitter, the radio, the news, the news, the news demand my attention and in a bad news week it WILL make me crazy.
I’ve been reading Rushkoff’s book this week, too, and that’s why I finally turned everything off and began scrubbing the bathroom. My baby-boomer brain as well as my baby-boomer heart and soul were overwhelmed. I recognized myself in his pages and declared, “TIME OUT!”
Of course, I had to start all over again this morning, wake up to more strange “breaking news” un-narrative from Boston, along with assorted bits nearer to home. The people in Texas seem to have dropped off the news cycle, which sort of worries me – will anyone remember to check on them?
But today, at sundown, Shabbat will come. I don’t know if she’ll be wearing bridal white or a nice nurse’s outfit this week, but she will come and gather us in her arms. The electronics will be off. The buzz will be busted for a while. We will catch our breath. We will gather our strength.
Blessed are you, O Holy One, Ruler of Time & Space, Master of the Now, Maker of Shabbat.
How can your household begin to keep Shabbat? One way to do it is with a simple Shabbat dinner.
Note: If you are new to Shabbat, make only a few changes, or even one change, at a time. Try things and notice what happens and how you feel. Adjust as necessary. This is a lifetime project. Blessings may be said either in Hebrew or in English. Do what is comfortable for your household.
MAKE IT SPECIAL: “Special” will mean something slightly different for every household. Perhaps you will use a tablecloth, or invite a friend. Whatever you do, make sure it is food that you like and that will not add stress. If cooking is hard for you, have good takeout. Many Jews eat challah, a sweet egg bread, on Shabbat.
YOU WILL NEED: Two candles, wine or juice, bread, yummy food.
SET THE TABLE Put the candles in candlesticks and bread on the table. Cover the bread with a napkin.
SAY GRACE AFTER MEALS: Stay at the table until everyone is finished. Then give thanks for having eaten: Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Who nourishes us all. There is a longer, beautiful blessing which you can learn by googling “Birkat Hamazon” and about which I’ll write in some future post. For now, for a simple Shabbat for beginners, this is enough.
The most important thing is to keep things low-key and pleasant: don’t use this meal as a time to remind anyone of work that needs to be done, or for unpleasant arguments. And keep in mind that since Shabbat comes once a week, it doesn’t have to be “perfect.” If there is something you’d like to be different, try that next week!
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!
Someone has invited you to your first Shabbat [Sabbath] dinner. Maybe you are “meeting the family” for the first time. Or maybe it’s just a friendly dinner. But you are not sure about the religious aspect: 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. 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.”
3. DON’T WORRY ABOUT HEBREW. There may or may not be Hebrew prayers or songs in Hebrew. If you feel awkward just listening, you have the option of saying “Amen,” at the end of prayers. As for singing, if you don’t know the words, you can tap your feet, or clap your hands, or just listen appreciatively. The dinner may begin with candlelighting and blessings over wine and bread. If you are not Jewish, you do not have to participate, just listen quietly and observe. Don’t worry that you do not speak Hebrew; many American Jews do not. It is a wonderful thing to learn Hebrew, but no one expects you to know it at your first Shabbat dinner!
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 do keep the tone friendly! Off color jokes and off color language are out of place at the Shabbat dinner table.
5. SAY THANK YOU. Write your host afterward and thank them for including you. When you host your own Shabbat dinner (or a similar event from your own tradition) return the invitation!