Lately I’ve been making much more of an effort with the actual meaning of Shabbat. I don’t just mean the motions, but the actual spirit of the thing. The shabbats (shabbatot, if you’re going to be technical about it) of my youth were mostly spent in the home of my wise friend Tilly. We read from the prayer book (trying not to giggle at “Egyptian bondage”), drank those first stinging-sweet sips of wine, (trying not to screw up our faces at the taste), and the two tall candles would stay lit for the whole meal. The rhythm of it was captivating, and now that I know more about these things, the rhythm of it was also deeply spiritual.
For a while, Shabbat meant work – I was the co-headteacher of the religion school at the synagogue I attended. I didn’t attend synagogue on Friday nights because I knew that a good chunk of my Saturday would be spent there, trying my hardest to inspire young people to see what I saw in the Jewish world around them. It was hard work. It was good work, but it wasn’t restful.
My first tastes of a Shabbat that would fill my heart up to the brim and send it flying up to the setting sun were (predictably) in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
I was there with a leftie progressive Jewish educators group and it opened my eyes to the messy nuance of something I had hiherto seen as simple, and it opened my heart to how much it could sing, and how much that could hurt. The above photos are ones I took as the sun set over Tel Aviv and Shabbat came in.
The list of things you can’t do on Shabbat is long and I know many people who make every effort to follow it to the letter. The way I see it, is that this long list was made so that there was no chance of a workaround (get it?) if nobody could do anything that pertained to their job. No gleaning, no writing, no destroying, no burning, no buying, no selling, etc etc...
As a progressive Jew, I don’t see how that can mean you have to pre-tear all of Saturday’s toilet paper before sundown on Friday. That sounds like a way to make work rather than avoid it.
What I’m aiming for is to create an atmosphere of peace and separation in my home and my heart, every Friday. To go through the motions, yes, but to see the beauty in the rhythm. I’ve been lighting the candles out on my balcony, distant sounds of the city as the score to my ritual, and I’ve introduced Max to the wonders of kiddush wine.
Today, for the first time, I visited the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond in Hampstead Heath as a sort of Friday pseudo-Mikveh, and I’ll be making sure to have a Saturday afternoon nap tomorrow, in the true spirit of Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom y’all. X