shabbat candles

My Shabbat That Wasn’t

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.

shabbatFor 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.

Exodus 40:33-38

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.

praying alonePages 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.

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17 thoughts on “My Shabbat That Wasn’t”

  1. Alas, James…your first Shabbat sounds a lot like my first Shabbat.

    And you are right, the preparation needs to be thought of beginning on Sunday…whether it is the food to buy, scheduling the shopping trip, laying out the candles, getting the wine on ice, planning what to study and read…whatever.

    I do hope that your first attempt allowed you to spend some restful time on Shabbat, and some quality time studying or praying.

    Every thing that you do to make the day special is the performance of the mitzvah, but you are not to be a robot with a list to check off to make sure you did enough. You remembered the Sabbath day, and hopefully, kept it holy unto G-d in restfulness and peace. Abba must be grinning from ear to ear at His son’s obedience.

    Be pleased for yourself and proud.

  2. Oh James…you choose yourself not easy task… but look. If I may advice you. I went with similar experience having somewhat reverse situation from your and your family. And after reading your post not only I can feel straggle and unsertainty, but I may like to give you encouragement. I strongly think you are on right path.Kepp going on it. Dont eat yourself, you do right things. Otherwise attempts to be well and right in prayer like your Shabbat project will quickly go to the thin air. But to make it real, you need to pick up yourself in deliberate effort. Just do it despite everything, anything and anyone. At the list when you will stand Shema, even yourself looking to the wall (as I often do) 2 things will happen: 1. You are praying on behalf of……… and 2. When you say (whatever there in the minimalist Suddur) know that next to you, even far away there is someone who also closed his eyes and recite Shema for himself and for the world. From my another experienc. Last week some people I know ask to have Shabbat Shacharit service but so what? No one came. So, I was myself (again) “talking to the wall” And so it up to us to overcome this. You know well this is lonely road. Yet…. not really. Kol Hakavod!

  3. Thanks for the input. Surprised to see so many views (ninety as I write this) of this blog post first thing in the morning. It’ll be better by next Shabbat.

  4. Well, that’s a bummer about your ear and your Shabbat plans James.

    On a side note, I’ve been known to send homemade challah priority mail to NY with great results. I’d be happy to send a loaf to Idaho for you my friend, one intermarried to another 🙂

  5. Maybe you can start a Challah by mail business. Aren’t you in CA? No really good Jewish bakeries nearby.

    @James: My husband told me about a study on Tinnitus, and they create sounds that sound like the noise and custom make it for use in an ear bud, and it has been successful. Massive research on this at VA.

    I spent the last 2 Shabbats in 2 different hospitals, so, am looking forward to this one. Kind of sad when it is just one day like another.

  6. I was particularly touched by this statement:
    “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.”

    I guess I’ve never thought about it as “how much I want to be blessed” but that is indeed what I find – how much I AM blessed. I find that our home is blessed with peace, rest, joy, and more.

    Yes, every day we have an opportunity to prepare for the coming Shabbat. When we are able to do so, I do believe that when the next Shabbat comes it is more beautiful and more appreciated. I am confident that your next Shabbat will be different than this past Shabbat and that you’ll find more joy and peace about it, even as your anticipation and excitement grows during the week. 🙂

  7. @Sojourning: Thanks. Hearing back to “normal”. You’ve had to send challah to NY? Really? She couldn’t find challah in NY? Wow!

    Thanks for the offer, but I’d feel pretty guilty making you do that. There’s a couple of places here in town that make it.

    @Chaya: I’ve been getting a lot of input about tinnitus since mentioning it but it’s difficult to find a consensus view. I suppose as I get older and my hearing changes, I’ll need to take more aggressive steps but at this point, it’s only occasionally annoying.

    Sorry to hear you’ve been spending time in the hospital. I hope you’re on the mend.

    @Lisa: Thanks. One of the things I’m discovering now that I’ve been “home alone” for a few days is how much my routine is affected by external events and people. I know it doesn’t seem like it would require a lot of organization to put together a simple meal, but it does take time to construct a proper Shabbat. I think I’ll set my sights a bit lower than I had originally planned and just focus on the peace rather than so much “ceremony”.

  8. James ~
    I believe that routine is part of what makes Shabbat what it becomes over time in each household. Our family has established a certain routine over the years and that routine includes a lot of organization. To me it is an example of bringing order from chaos, because some weeks are very chaotic and we long for Shabbat to have a certain order to it.

    Yes, do what you are able so that Shabbat is a blessing. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high, but there’s something to be said for the Didache’s encouragement to “do what you are able.” We all do.

  9. Oh, please don’t think I didn’t understand that! I know that your family routine doesn’t allow for the same things my family routine does. And I totally respect that.

    What I mean to say is that without a routine, it is certainly difficult to jump in and achieve the same results. But what I think you may be able to participate in this week is a bit of “organization” in that each day you can do at least one task in preparation for Shabbat so that when Friday comes you’re not overwhelmed with all that you’d like to accomplish. For example, in our home Monday and Thursday are laundry days and the windows get washed on Wednesday, etc. I do believe that you had this in mind when you wrote based on the story you chose to share in your post about the Rabbi (I forget his name as well) who would be very Shabbat-minded all week long.

  10. I love that, Lisa… “order out of chaos.” Something is going to happen at the end of the week even if things have been hectic all week long. Of course, in the dessert (at least for time), mostly what had to be done to rest was extra collection of firewood {hm, in the dessert} and manna. But when food preparation is more complex and the fire to be kindled requires candles or oil, and wine and bread are elements of joy, and marking the end of Sabbath with [different] candles again and wine and fragrance to carry into the new week is greatly to be desired, the week ahead (before and after) has a bit of a rudder.

  11. @Marleen — Thanks for that correction. I kept picturing something with whipped cream on top. [;^)]

    @James — Maybe you can get some sympathy from your wife when she hears how hard you tried to make a Shabbat, and that you couldn’t seem to make it happen without her help. It is, after all, not something intended to be done in isolation on a solely individual level. Is she at all sympathetic to the worldwide Shabbat project that was celebrated again this year for Shabbat Noa’h? Perhaps she might be inspired to pursue some improved Shabbat home observance that includes her supportive cooperative husband?

  12. @Lisa: Yes, I know you understand. I apologize if I implied that I thought you didn’t. I think part of it is that with the family gone and me taking a week off of work, I’ve put aside most of my usual routine. I expected all that freed time to be liberating but it turns out to be the opposite.

    @Marleen: As I mentioned above, regardless of the environment, a regular routine that includes Shabbat observance is really what is required. Then again, when a Jewish person who has not lived an observant life determines to begin, perhaps with Shabbat, I can only imagine they go through something like this.

    @PL: I’m not sure sympathy is what I’m after, although I can see how you might get that idea from this blog post. I agree, Shabbat isn’t meant to be observed at the level of the individual, which is part of the difficulty in getting motivated. It’s also part of the reason that I’ve determined to be less than scrupulous in my “observance”. The prayers and music are organized around family and community. I may have to conclude that the only meaningful Shabbats I will celebrate are on those occasions when I visit a Shabbat-keeping community. If that’s my take away from the current “project” then it hasn’t been a waste.

  13. @James — Well, I wasn’t exactly drawing inferences from your essay, but rather hoping your wife might feel compassion for you and take pity upon your wish to support and participate in a deeper experience of Shabbat. I can’t say that is the best motivation for improved Shabbat-keeping, but it’ll do for a start.

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