I’m five weeks into my “official” study of Judaism (official because I’m under the tutelage of a rabbi) and every single week, I learn something new or discover something about myself and my own beliefs that tells me I’m on the right path.
My biggest realization, thus far, is two-fold: 1) I’m completely falling in love with Shabbat; and, 2) Shabbat preparation is challenging.
Shabbat, for those that are unfamiliar, is the weekly Sabbath, which is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It’s a Jewish holiday, really, and Jews take Shabbat seriously. There is candle lighting, prayers and blessings, Challah bread, a special dinner, wine, services at the synagogue on either Friday night or Saturday morning or both, and more candle lighting. Shabbat is a time for rest and pleasure, and there are many rules or laws of what Jews can and cannot do during Shabbat. In the Orthodox or Hasidic world, the laws are followed closely. (For example, if a light switch is left in the “on” position when Shabbat arrives, that light cannot be turned off until Shabbat has concluded.) However, since I am studying Judaism through the Reform Movement, the laws and rules are not mandatory. Reform Jews believe in following the laws that bring the most meaning and spiritual strength in their individual lives.
Shabbat is beautiful. I’m starting to observe Shabbat in steps, because it’s very hard to jump in with both feet. There is so much to it! This book, A Day Apart, is part of our required texts for the class and I find it to be highly valuable when it comes to understanding and appreciating the gorgeousness of this weekly holiday. The book not only contains instructions and prayers for Shabbat, but a multitude of reflection and commentary from Jews all over the world about Shabbat and how important it is.
I attend services whenever my synagogue has them, which isn’t usually weekly because our rabbi is part-time. The service, which is predominately in Hebrew, the sacred language of Judaism, is actually getting easier to follow along with as each week passes, and some of the prayers are starting to become familiar. The d’var Torah (similar to the sermon in the Christian world) usually leaves me with something to think about and ponder long after the service and following Oneg (community blessing of Challah bread and kiddish wine and a time of fellowship) have concluded.
I love the communal aspects of Shabbat, but observing the holiday in our home is something I aspire to do.I ordered my Shabbat candlesticks last week and they arrived yesterday, just in time for Shabbat, so I was able to light my candles at sunset and say the prayers on Friday evening.
I also made Challah rolls and we had a delicious steak dinner on my special china that I’ve had for about 15 years but never really had a need for before now. (Which I totally forgot I even had until Friday morning.)
This morning, I reorganized my dish space in the kitchen to make room for all my beautiful china. If Shabbat is going to be such an important part of my life, I need to be sure my Shabbat dishes are in a place of prominence, as well. (They even took up two shelves!)
The point of Shabbat is that it’s supposed to be kadosh, or holy. It’s a sacred time of thanksgiving and relaxation. It’s a time to take a step back and slough off the stress of the week. I never appreciated the Christian Sabbath, but the Jewish Shabbat is quickly becoming full of meaning and intention.