It started on our first or second attempt at Shabbat dinner. Drenched in print outs, and wondering why the candles never stay up in any of the candlesticks we get, we were just trying to get through dinner. Torah discussion was out. The songs were out. The blessing of thankfulness at the end was out. The not-using-the-internet-after-dinner was out. Pretty much the entirety of Saturday was out. We just wanted to get through the words. We were just trying to say “Shabbat Shalom” without sounding like culture-appropriating jerks (our only Jewish friends say “Good Shabbos”, are we screwing this up already?). Luckily, there was an icebreaker.
You see, my daughter is turning four years old this month and she has an interesting little quirk. She doesn’t like saying words that she’s never said before. She’s a brave girl, but I think she suffers fits of embarrassment or something, because no amount of Yo Gabba Gabba’s sage advice “Try it! You’ll like it!” can get through her firewall at times. It took forever to get her to say “Shabbat Shalom”, but she didn’t have any issue with making up her own words.
Likewise, we’ve been working on “Amen” for months now. I only made headway when I took a page out of Bob the Builder. “Wine and challah…can we bless it? YES WE CAN!”
It’s a start. And it’s great. About three times per month we have a great family meal with a little ritual that the kids love. Our youngest isn’t even two and he already stretches out to hold hands after the candle lighting, because he knows it time to hear all about how much we love him and bless him. It’s a-frickin-dorable! We’re amazed at how much our kids already love and look forward to Shabbat dinner, especially because we eat together at the table pretty much every night. And yet they know Shabbat is separate. It’s sacred, and the rest is profane. They can tell it’s a big-to-do.
And while it’s such a good start, it makes me think about what the end goal will be.
When we first dove into our Judaism books, there was a lot of stuff we were looking forward to trying, and things we didn’t think were right for us. All Jews have to figure out what level of observance is right for them, but it’s always a little more tricky with converts, because you can be Jewish and worship the front tire of your car. It doesn’t matter. You’ll still be Jewish. But when converting you have to meet some basic minimum standard, or the vast majority of observant Jews just don’t consider you Jewish, and if you’re converting, you’ve pretty much have to be an observant Jew or else what’s the point? The one thing I knew I’d be an expert at, though, was Shabbat. Not just the dinner, but the day of pretty much sitting around and doing nothing. That I could do. I mean, that’s pretty much all I want to do on Saturdays anyway, but this not only gives me an excuse, but a religious mandate. Awesome.
I’ve gotta tell you, though, it hasn’t quite materialized. That’s been for a few valid reasons. It’s hard to find time to do nothing. My wife, Tiffany, pretty much thinks it’s a mortal sin to do nothing when something needs to be done. We haven’t found a synagogue we really dig yet. Oh, we have tons of excuses. Take your pick.
And you’re not really supposed to do nothing, are you? You’re supposed to be spending time with each other. You should be studying Torah. A day of rest is actually a pretty tall order. Honestly, it’s been months and months, and we haven’t even made a halfhearted attempt to do it all correctly.
What I’ve learned about Judaism, though, is that it’s a process. 100% compliance isn’t likely, or even possible. Instead, Judaism is a direction, pointing us down a path, and the experience of walking down that path–of improving our observances, and carving out just a bit more time for our families and communities and our souls each week, is really the goal.
It’s not supposed to be easy. And it’s not supposed to be accomplished in a weekend. What we have now is a good start. And that’s right where we need to be. It’s not perfect, but if it ever was perfect the world would probably end, or something. But it’s good, and bit by bit it’ll get better. And someday we’ll have that amazing, by-the-book Shabbat, but until then, we’ve got Shabbat DO-BE-DO-BE-DOOOOOOOOOOO!
Filed Under: Religion & Beliefs