Attempting to keep Shabbos
(photo by Olaf Herfurth)
In anticipation of the annual Shabbos Project – this year on Oct. 26-27 – where Jews from around the world, and from every level of observance, celebrate and experience Shabbos together, I decided I needed to get prepared.
On the continuum that is my journey to Yiddishkeit, I’m probably less than a third of the way there. I’ve chosen to take it one step at a time.
A few weeks ago, after a particularly inspiring Torah class, I broached the subject of Shabbos with my husband, Harvey. I asked him if he’d be on board with trying to observe it the following weekend. He tentatively agreed, knowing that, if he said no, I’d make his life a living hell. A smart man knows when to say yes.
A few days went by before I started planning in earnest for our Shabbos-ready tech shutdown. I confirmed with Harvey that we’d be powering off all our devices, taping the refrigerator and other light switches, using electric tealights to light the requisite rooms, and just generally relaxing for 24 hours. He agreed. All systems go. Or so I thought.
Shabbos candles – check. Tealights – check. Crock-Pot in which to make cholent – check. Beef, carrots, potatoes, etc., to cook the cholent – check. Challah – check. Wine – check. In my naiveté and enthusiasm to be shomer Shabbos, I hadn’t really considered everything that goes into preparing to do so. Not even close. And, of course, my lack of preparation came back to bite me in the proverbial tuchus.
Very early Friday morning, a note was slipped under our door, informing us that the water would be shut off from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. that day. I was thrown headlong in a haze of cholent-making confusion. Instead of starting my cholent at 3 p.m. to be ready for lunch the next day, I panicked and started assembling it at 7:30 a.m. So, we had cholent for dinner Friday night, for lunch on Saturday and, yes, again for dinner Saturday night. You can see where this is headed: cholent overload.
A real Shabbos queen would have made an array of cold salads, had a back-up chicken for Friday night dinner and another main dish for Saturday dinner. I could find a thousand excuses for why I hadn’t thought this through, but none of it matters now. Luckily, I have a very easygoing husband, when it comes to food. Put it in his bowl or on his plate, he’ll eat it. Don’t get me wrong, Harvey is a real connoisseur when it comes to good food and wine. But he also knows when not to complain. So, he ate cholent three meals in a row. And it didn’t kill him. As for me, I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t planned more thoroughly for a beautifully scrumptious Shabbos experience. Food’s a big part of all this, right?
The lack of variety in food was accompanied by several, how shall I call them, Shabbos slips. Halfway through lighting the candles, I remembered that I hadn’t changed the Crock-Pot timer to 10 hours, so I did it. “Broke” Shabbos. But I carried on, certain that G-d would forgive my little error. And confident that there is more likelihood of us trying to keep Shabbos again if we don’t approach it with an all-or-nothing attitude. Baby steps will keep us on the right path, whereas a “let’s call the whole off” right now because I messed up with the Crock-Pot will turn us off forever. There were a few other Shabbos boo-boos, like writing something down on a piece of paper. And carrying my purse to shul. Oh, and that pesky little detail of not keeping kosher.
I’ve actually studied a bit about how to keep Shabbos. I just haven’t put it all into practice quite yet. Not even close. But the intention and desire is there. I have to admit, I have a small obsession with understanding new things fully before embracing them. Reading before doing. I guess that’s a residual habit from spending 34 years as a librarian. In case you weren’t aware, librarians can’t rest until they have all (or most) of the answers. So, the journey continues.
The best part of Shabbos for me, besides lighting the candles and eating the delicious challah I made, was having my husband’s undivided attention, and he, mine. The time we spent talking on that one Friday night is probably equal to the time we usually spend talking all week. After nearly 13 years together, I learned new things about Harvey that Shabbos. In an atmosphere of love and relaxation, with no distractions of any kind, we eased back into each other’s lives calmly and sweetly. It was wonderful.
On Saturday, in the late afternoon before Shabbos ended, I walked into the living room and sat down. Harvey looked at me with a touch of fear in his eyes and asked: “Does this mean we have to talk again?” I guess the feeling about the beauty of it all was slightly inequitable. But I’ll keep trying. There’s always next Shabbos.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review, and currently writes a bi-weekly column about retirement for the Richmond News.