When I was a kid, my father traveled for business. He would leave on Sunday night, my mother, siblings, and I tearfully waving him off as he waited for the elevator. He would return Friday morning or late Thursday night. Every single week for as long as I can remember.
I didn’t see him much, actually. In those days, you couldn’t “work from home.” To work, you went to the office. And my father, having his own firm, and being a real workaholic (perhaps influenced by his extreme poverty as a boy) worked all the time. He would go into the office on Saturday night right after Shabbos ended and almost always spent most, or at least part, of every Sunday working.
But he was always home on Shabbos, and on every yom tov (holiday). He was home to light Hanukkah lecht (Yiddish, lights) and to celebrate Purim. I don’t know how he did it, but he kept kosher on the road and made it home before sunset every single Friday of his life.
So our Shabbos table was an occasion for a weekly reunion. And although I often wonder how he kept the fatigue at bay on a Friday night, he was always a lively, funny presence, the more nurturing of my parents. We would all catch up on the events of the week, play 20 questions and hide-and-go-seek. When I was a teenager, we would talk in the living room after dinner. I loved Shabbos partly because I loved my father–and that was the only time I got to have quality time to develop a meaningful relationship with him.
On Shabbos morning, when we were small, my dad would give us breakfast and help us get dressed. He would swing me and my sister around as he pulled up our tights. We loved that. Then, one hand in each of his daughter’s, he made his way to shul (synagogue) where I felt special as everyone knew my dad who was friendly and a macher (Yiddish, influential person).
On Shabbos day, after his nap, we’d go to the park and playground and to visit my grandparents, all of whom lived within three blocks of our apartment. That was great, too, because I loved my grandparents and I knew how much they loved me.
When I was a young mother, my husband also worked long hours and came home well after the kids had gone to bed. When they were older, I served supper four times each night to accommodate everyone’s different schedule. But we were all around the table for Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch, the only times we ate together as a family. We had leisurely meals with lots of conversation and laughter. Sometimes we had company. It was warm. It was fun. It was Shabbos.
It could be reliably predicted that if someone was going to get sick, it would be on a Friday, often necessitating a visit to the pediatrician. So, anticipating a time crunch, I got into the habit of doing all my cooking for Shabbos on Thursday. My table was even set by Thursday night.
For Shabbos, the table is graced with nice dishes, the silver kiddush cup and the hand painted silk challah cover. The smell of chulent permeates the whole house. It’s quiet and calm. I have a custom to light candles five minutes early so I will not be “rushing” into Shabbos. After all, if an important person were expected, all would be organized and arranged down to the smallest detail, the home and its members in ready anticipation. Shabbos deserves nothing less.
I take a few quiet seconds before I light candles to think of those I love and for whose welfare I pray. And then, with gratitude and reverence, I welcome the Shabbos queen into my home and my heart, grateful for the gifts she brings each week–serenity, family, friends, light, love and laughter.