Shabbat was what sold me on Judaism in the first place. As a convert, it’s always been my favorite part of being Jewish. It was the first thing about Judaism that felt like it was mine, the first thing that made me feel like I wasn’t just doing it for someone else, this was what I wanted. For me, for my husband, and for my kids. It’s the foundation for me, it’s what keeps me grounded in Judaism. I don’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish, the emphasis on the Torah is sometimes confusing to me–but Shabbat, Shabbat I understand. Shabbat brings me back, week after week, to what I want most for my life.
So why is it so hard?
I think it’s a function of my life right now. I’m essentially alone with my three kids all week long. My husband works so much, and the hours are so brutal. I’m achingly aware, all the time, of his absence and how much the kids miss him. How much I miss him. And how much EASIER it is when he’s home. Just having another adult in the house, someone to answer the questions or pay attention or help with homework, even just someone to pour me a cup of coffee when I’m too busy to do it myself.
Friday night comes and goes, and he’s not here. I’m trying to make an effort to at least light the candles with the kids, but last Friday night’s dinner was beans and hot dogs. I put my toddler, Julianna, to bed, and then my 10-year-old daughter Jessica conked out on my bed next to her. Sam, my almost 7-year-old, was rocking and rolling until Marc came home around 9:30 or so. He ended up falling asleep on the couch while poor Marc ate leftovers after everyone else was sleeping.
The next morning, I was just irritated. The house was in shambles, coffee wasn’t made. Julie was up at the crack of dawn, followed almost immediately by the other two. The kids were battling, Julie was exhausted and screaming, literally screaming whenever something didn’t go her way. Nothing went her way.
I drove to the synagogue, in no mood for any kind of spiritual activities, but my youngest loves it so I went, dragging a reluctant Sam, because he wanted to stay home and color. They did not behave in an exemplary fashion, and at one point, I had to lean over and hiss in Julie’s ear, “If you don’t stop right now, we won’t come again.” That’s right, I threatened to take away Shabbat if she couldn’t behave.
As I was driving home, still aggravated and feeling put upon and stressed out, I grumbled to myself that I don’t like Shabbat. It’s too close to the work week, there’s too much stress and pressure, and I need a day to decompress before I can really relax and appreciate my life. But Julie piped up from the back about how much she LOVES Shabbat–she gets to see all her friends and have challah and juice.
I didn’t start to get any perspective on it until I went out that afternoon alone. The exact opposite of the Shabbat I thought I should be having. It turns out that the alone time was what I needed more than anything else.
Maybe a whole day for Shabbat is out of reach for me at this point. Maybe all I can manage is a few minutes, here and there. I did light the candles that night, and Julianna, oddly enough, can recite the blessings by herself. I didn’t know that until that night. And Jessica cleaned the house while I was gone earlier and had a tea party with Crabbianna to keep her occupied. On my way back, I picked up Sam and brought him food shopping with me, and we picked out dessert for that night.
Maybe Shabbat is found in little pockets of time that I manage to cull out of my life these days. Maybe I should try harder to find them during the week. Moments like the afternoon when my son sang on stage for the holiday concert, when I knew he was so scared. And last night when my Jessie snuggled up next to me like she did when she was a toddler and fell asleep that way. Moments when my husband tells me he loves me when I don’t feel at all lovable.
Maybe I need to rethink Shabbat. Just a little. Just for a while. Because there’s opportunity for holiness everywhere, and gratitude and solace and harmony. There are moments, every day. I just need to be more present and aware of them. Maybe I need to focus more on trying to have a little of it every day, instead of resenting the fact that I can’t have a whole day of concentrated Shabbat-ness.
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