Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Sabbath.
-from the Artscroll Sefard Siddur
That’s as far as I got on observing Erev Shabbat or really all of the Shabbat yesterday (as you read this). I dropped my wife and daughter off at the airport very early on Friday morning and thought I had the whole day ahead of me to make Erev Shabbat preparations.
But my plans were already unraveling.
Actually, this all started Thursday afternoon as I was driving home from work. Like an estimated 50 million people worldwide, I suffer from a form of tinnitus or what some people call “ringing in the ears.” For me, it’s always present in my left ear and occasionally I’ll hear intermittent sounds in my right, usually when under stress.
Most of the time, I can ignore it unless it’s very quiet, and even when I’m trying to sleep, it’s more like a form of “white noise” so it doesn’t prevent me from dozing off.
But for some unknown reason on Thursday afternoon, my right ear started perceiving loud and highly distracting sounds, so much so that at their worse, they actually blocked out the tinnitus noise I experience in my left ear.
Any loud noise, especially a sudden noise like a car door slamming, was like having my head shoved in an echo chamber. All sudden sounds had a clanging “metallic” quality that seemed to bounce back and forth inside my skull.
The long and the short of it is that I got a grand total of two to two and a half hours of sleep Thursday night/Friday morning. By the time I took my family to the airport at 5 a.m., my hearing was back to normal (what’s normal for me), but I felt like my brain was packed with boiled inner tubes and rusty railroad spikes. On top of that, there were two tasks that had suddenly come up that had to be resolved on Friday without fail.
Between my inability to concentrate and having to focus (as best I could) on all of the phone calls and appointments related to solving the two issues in question (they’re personal enough for me not to share them online), any time I had to organize Erev Shabbat observance was consumed.
The good news is that everything that needed to get done got done more than an hour before sundown. I have to thank the kind and understanding people involved for going the extra mile and helping me achieve my goals. I was very impressed with the amount of caring that these people extended to someone they had never met before.
The bad news is that by the time that candle lighting came around, I didn’t have anything prepared besides the candles. So I kindled the Shabbat lights, said the blessings, and instead of a hearty meal, challah, and wine, I settled for a couple of tamales and a beer. Actually, they were very good tamales and a very tasty Fat Tire amber ale.
But I learned a few things.
I can’t remember the source and a quick Google search yields no useful results, but I recall reading a Shabbat commentary stating that a particular Rabbi would spend all week preparing for his Shabbat observance. At some point mid-week, when he found a lamb he wanted to roast for the Erev Shabbat meal, he would loudly declare, “This is for Shabbat!” He would do this anytime he acquired something to be used in honor of the Shabbat.
I can see I will need to do the same. OK, not the loud, public declarations, but spending the entire week gathering and preparing for Friday afternoon.
While The Sabbath Table seems like a highly useful resource, I’m going to have to spend more time with it to map the flow of the prayers to my needs, particularly since I’ll be observing Shabbos as an individual, and particularly because I’m not Jewish.
Also, while I have a pretty good idea of the level of observance I will attempt, I will need to “nail down” what I want to do so that I don’t spend my rest fumbling over the prayers and worrying about procedure when I need to be welcoming the Shabbat Queen.
Which brings up an interesting question: my level of observance. I know some people will be thinking that I’m “picking and choosing” the “rules” to Shabbat rather than relying on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Like it or not, though, there is preparation that goes into Shabbat and there are different standards of observance. I want this to be a joy, not a cumbersome activity, and “loading up” on a series of mitzvot that I don’t understand and have never performed before will just distract me from the actual purpose of my Shabbos Project, which is to honor God and experience some small foretaste of the coming Messianic Kingdom.
For the rest of it, I can choose a wine, challah or at least some other acceptable substitute, and particularly plan out meals so I don’t find myself in a situation where I’m without an appropriate meal or snack at any point during the twenty-four plus hours of Shabbos.
I’ve come to think of the mitzvot related to Shabbat not in terms of restrictions and how much I want to be “obligated,” but rather how much I want to be blessed. The less “weekly baggage” I employ, the more of me, my thoughts, feelings, attention, and behavior is turned on this holy day to God.
Much of the Book of Exodus is dedicated to the exquisitely fine details of preparing to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert along with all of the objects to be used, the robes of the priests, and everything else. The lists of activities and materials can seem mind numbing to read through, and I’m sure there have been more than a few people who have struggled with this section of the Torah and couldn’t wait to get past it to more “interesting” stories.
But consider. It takes all of this preparation (this is only a small sample)…
You shall make on the breastpiece chains of twisted cordage work in pure gold. You shall make on the breastpiece two rings of gold, and shall put the two rings on the two ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the two cords of gold on the two rings at the ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, at the front of it. You shall make two rings of gold and shall place them on the two ends of the breastpiece, on the edge of it, which is toward the inner side of the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold and put them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it close to the place where it is joined, above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. They shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it will be on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece will not come loose from the ephod.
–Exodus 28:22-28 (NASB)
…to get to the “big event:”
He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.
If all of the details God provided Moses had not been attended to exactly as God had given them, then there would not have been the dwelling of the Divine Presence among the Children of Israel.
In my reading, I came across an interesting detail:
You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.
–Exodus 35:3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
The Tanakh commentary for this verse states:
The Torah can be understood only as it is interpreted by the Oral Law, which God taught to Moses, and which he transmitted to the nation. The Oral Law makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking are forbidden, but there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. Deviant sects that denied the teachings of the Sages misinterpreted this passage, so they would sit in the dark throughout the Sabbath, just as they sat in spiritual darkness all their lives.
I know a lot of people who will disagree with the above-quoted paragraph, but since the Torah is very limited in telling us exactly how one is to observe the Shabbat, whether you think the Oral Law was given to Moses or it is the compilation of Rabbinic rulings and commentaries about the Shabbat and all the other mitzvot, the fact remains that Judaism, the inheritor of the twelve tribes and of the Torah, has been the keeper of the Shabbat for more than 3500 years. Like it or not, when a non-Jew and a disciple of the Messiah enters into any form of Shabbat observance, we’re entering Jewish worship and ritual space.
Pages 131 to 155 of Aaron Eby’s book First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer contain a minimalist siddur adapted for use by Messianic Gentiles (that would be me). Starting this (Sunday) morning, and at least for the next week, I intend to participate in regular prayer time in a more formal manner than I’ve become accustomed to.
Some years ago, I all but stopped using a siddur in prayer as part of my effort in backing out of Jewish space and honoring my wife who, as a Jew, thought it rather strange that a Christian Goy like me would be doing “Jewish” stuff. However, for the next week, it’ll just be me at home…well, me and God, and I find myself drawn to something I’ve missed.
No, I won’t be donning a tallit and kippah or laying tefillin (and in any event, although Aaron believes under certain circumstances these practices are appropriate for Gentiles, he did not include the applicable blessings for the use of such objects in his book). I’m a Messianic Gentile and am interpreting the will of my Master in this way. I’m not telling you what you have to do or should do. I’m describing what I did last week that didn’t work, and what I’m going to do in the coming week to enter a place that is a brief and precious portrait of the coming age of Messiah, may he reign in power and glory.