My spouse comes from a more observantly Jewish home than I, and now that we have kids he would like us to begin to celebrate Shabbat. I am not saying that I am opposed, but I don't understand why we should all of a sudden change our regular behavior. Additionally, it's difficult for me, since although I have seen Shabbat in other people's homes, I don't know where to begin. I am also concerned that he will expect us to stop doing certain things as well. Please help! This is really becoming a strain in our marriage.
Different levels of religious observance in a marriage are a challenge to navigate, but more common than you may think. I encourage you to have some deep conversations with your partner, each of you employing a good dose of patience. In many instances, a little compromise can go a long way.
Shabbat is a core part of Jewish life. It is a day replete with symbols, rituals and meaning that affirm our relationship with the Holy One and help us to transcend the ordinary. Yes, it is a day full of rules and regulations but it is also a day that offers us uplift from our routine and many wonderful family memories.
On a number of occasions, I have found myself trying to describe the Shabbat experience to folks who know nothing of Sabbath observance. It's not easy. By the time I have described the elaborate preparations, the recoiling from the world at large, the inimitable aroma of cholent left on the stove all night and the luxurious nap of Shabbat afternoon, you'd think I had come from another planet.
Maybe I was. In some ways, when you observe Shabbat, you are on another planet. It may sound corny, but here goes: Planet Shabbos is a great place to be. Here are four small suggestions on how to transport yourself gradually by introducing some aspects of Shabbat into your home.
Your initial baby step might be to light Shabbat candles. Gather your family around you on Friday before sunset. You can check for official candle lighting time in your area on the Internet (or in the JTNews), traditionally 18 minutes before sundown.
Set up two candlesticks. Light the candles and using your arms, gesture welcoming circular motions around the candles and then raise your hands to your eyes covering them. With eyes closed, recite the blessing thanking God for commanding us to light the Sabbath candles.
Afterward, wish your family Shabbat Shalom with hugs and kisses, and you are on your way. It is a relatively easy -- and immensely beautiful -- ritual that symbolizes the light of creation and will delicately alter the ambience in your home.
No one will deny the central role of food on Shabbat. I nominate Friday night as the night that your family must sit down to eat together. In my book, food is love. And Jewish food is love, tradition and legacy all rolled into one.
What are your family's traditional Jewish foods? If none come to mind, get a Jewish cookbook and begin experimenting. The food that I referred to earlier, cholent, is a traditional dish left on the fire over Friday night and eaten Shabbat day. It has many different varieties spanning the vast countries where our people have dwelled; there is nothing quite like it. Google it -- you will find more recipes than the weeks of the year! Of course, you might want to start out more simply with the always-fabulous ultimate comfort food, chicken soup and matzoh balls.
3. Some don'ts
The candles and the food are a terrific start, but just like any valuable endeavor there is discipline involved as well. There are two aspects to Shabbat: the great warm and wonderful things we get to do, and the work activities that we are asked to refrain from doing -- the dos and the don'ts. This can be hard for people. The idea of being limited in behavior is sometimes threatening. What? No phone, TV or e-mail?
And the puzzlement: what is work about flicking on a light switch? Erich Fromm, the famed psychoanalyst, explains the symbolism behind the restrictions.
We are being asked to refrain from changing nature, he says. This restraint is a symbol of our humble acknowledgment that God is the Creator. Shabbat is a day that we live differently. Some would call it ritualistic, but our actions take on a different meaning.
It is not just restraining from turning on the TV, but keeping it off because of deep beliefs. We are not the be-all and the end-all. There is a Creator, the source of all life from whom all blessings emanate.
I don't turn on the TV because I acknowledge something way bigger than me, so with humility I hold back. My advice is to start slowly -- maybe eliminate just one of the non-Shabbat-like endeavors and see how that feels.
If you are going to attempt life on another planet, you may as well hang out with the other aliens. Going to shul is a perfect Shabbat activity! Seeing your friends, participating in prayer and becoming part of a community all complete the picture.
When I was little, I would wear white gloves, get dressed up, and sit next to my mother, which is a lovely memory. But things have changed. Now there are shuls which are a little less formal and more family-oriented, with special services and fun activities for kids. Hopefully you will make friends, connect with the people with whom you are worshipping and become a part of the community. This in turn will help you in your experiment with Shabbat.
Finally, would any discussion on Shabbat be complete without evoking the famous adage of Achad Ha'am? He observed that more than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews. Shabbat observance is a deeply meaningful part of being Jewish, a gift of transcendence that has nurtured us as a people. Shabbat observance is transforming and maybe even transporting. It can land you on another planet, which is sometimes a very good thing. You can get to Planet Shabbos, but do it slowly and with deliberation, one step at a time.