Oy Betcha! …and the Quest for Shabbat!
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!
(Images: slgckgc, anomalous4)
I feel so much better about our last attempt at Shabbat dinner now. It was going o.k. until I knocked over and shattered the kiddush cup, wine and glass everywhere. It’s not supposed to be easy.
Good for you for getting your Shabbat dinners going. Perfection isn’t required.
And by the way, your friends are saying “Gut Shabbes” which is Yiddish. There’s nothing wrong with that, or with “Shabbat shalom,” which is Hebrew. I prefer the latter, because not all Jews speak Yiddish, but all Jews should know at least some basic Hebrew terms.
I loved this–just had to let you know.
Don’t worry, it’s all about baby steps, and pretty soon you’ll be building your own family traditions. It doesn’t have to be a Father-Knows-Best-Shabbat, you know…
Matthew, I had a rough time getting started with Shabbat myself. In the end I decided to just choose one thing at a time, and work on it for a month. I didn’t even pick candles first, I started by making challah every week. After a month I started making more elaborate meals, in larger portions so I wouldn’t cook on Shabbat. A month after that I started making sure I studied Torah for an hour on Shabbat.
Making changes and gaining practices can be difficult, especially when you have a whole family to worry about, but the important thing is to just keep moving forward and enjoying your Shabbat do-be-do-be-doo.