Every year, we start out the same. We are chill and peaceful from a lazy summer. Life seems manageable and approachable. The days are long and filled with things like ice cream and slow walks that lead to nowhere. We foolishly feel as though, “we’ve got this.”
Then, the fall comes. Real life and schedules begin again. We are frenzied and scrambled. The days get irritatingly short just when, more than ever, we have so much to fit into them. Activities, sports, meetings. Amidst the sharp colors and gusty winds of fall, we again find ourselves tripping through a hyper-scheduled minefield. But this year, we were ready. This year, we were armed with our secret weapon: Shabbat.
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This was the year we were going to get it right. In the midst of the seemingly constant turning of the day-to-day, Shabbat was going to be our magic bullet. I made a list of rules we were going to follow, because if we were going to adhere to Shabbat, then there had to be some sort of definition that distinguished it from every other space. We had to feel like we were entering some place different and special. The rules said something like this:
1. We must be together.
2. We must be at home.
3. We must eat on paper plates (because I hate washing dishes).
4. We must say the blessings over the candles and for the food and wine (ahem, juice boxes).
5. We must change our clothes (into really anything–but to symbolically take off the weight and grossness of the day and start fresh).
6. We can usually skip post dinner baths and showers in favor of a family game.
7. I was going to make my own challah.
So here is how it actually panned out:
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We ate on paper plates, but we used cloth napkins to reduce our carbon footprint. This made no sense at all. We changed our clothes during week one. In nearly all subsequent weeks, everyone rioted over this rule, with my husband most vociferously fighting me on this concept, articulating, “Why make more laundry?” Most nights, we played games. But Clue was a bust, because we forgot that my husband and I just wanted to play Clue against each other, and the children felt left out because, well, we left them out. The youngest spilled everything. Almost all of the dinners I made universally stunk, and even I agreed. The challah was almost never homemade. We always said the blessings.
A part of me felt deflated that we were so lax with our self-imposed rules. I started thinking long and hard about what the goal was. Just what was it we were trying to achieve? If Shabbat was truly a spiritual destination, it had to be less about the process, and more about the feeling. When we’re at our best, Shabbat is best, and we’re free to shake off the rules and structure of the week. We’re finally unencumbered of expectations.
Shabbat, in whatever form it takes, is an opportunity to rest, and for us, this means opting out of to-do’s, indulging in mess. If the days of the week are your closet, we needed Shabbat to be our spiritual sweatpants. Literally and figuratively. No buttons. No constraints. We let it all hang out–the good, the bad. Whatever. But we were doing it together.
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As the weeks pass, our kids seem to look forward to our strange, Friday night non-rituals. Sometimes we’ve got all the stuff: the candles, the wine, the homemade challah, the smiles, the clean faces, the good manners. Sometimes, all we’ve got is our best intentions and the battery operated haunted Halloween candelabra. Still, we thank God for what we’ve got, which no matter what else, generally speaking, is each other.
And maybe that’s what it was always supposed to be. Maybe that’s what our Shabbat is: a weekly reminder that all we ever really needed to survive a busy fall was to just come home.