A long time ago, my husband and I came to a mutual agreement that I’d handle the weekly Shabbat preparations and he’d wash the cholent pot on Saturday nights. It works for us—I enjoy the former and he has the stomach for the latter—and we never tell one another how to do our jobs.
But there was that one time my husband had a big idea.
He returned home late from work on a Thursday evening and pulled up a chair in the kitchen. I was sporting a schmutz-covered apron to conduct an orchestra of pots on the stove, a wooden spoon in each hand. Not quite a French maid holding a martini. Yet my less than sultry look wasn’t the problem. It was the dining room table.
Laptops sat open at either end, with a week’s worth of paper, books, unpacked groceries, assorted junk, and scatterings of Lego covering the space in between.
No surprise. I cooked on Thursday and cleared up the table only after work on Friday, as I reminded my husband when I caught him ogling the mess, which was far from entirely mine. His face twisted into the funny expression he makes when he’s doubtful, like when he smells the milk to see if it’s still fresh.
“What?” I asked, defensively.
On the ride home, he’d listened to a lecture by a rabbi we both admire who tells wonderful stories about the power of small changes.
“And?” I said.
“His wife sets the table on Thursday night so it already feels like Shabbos when they wake up Friday morning.”
“We should do that.”
“We,” of course, meant me. To be fair, I liked the idea of imbuing the house with that aura of expectation, though I was a bit annoyed that my husband now had this bug in his head. I didn’t need the added pressure.
“Sounds great,” I told him, “but it’s not gonna happen.”
A wise and loving soul, he let it drop as quickly as he brought it up.
And then God did that thing He does when I’m heading one way and He wants me to go in the opposite direction.
Several weeks later, I received a call from my son’s school on a Friday that he was running a dangerously high fever. I bolted out of work and spent the rest of the day ministering to him. At home, he lay down on the couch bundled beneath a stack of blankets.
I sat by his side to rub his back when the others left for the evening service. From that angle, I had a mortifying view of the week’s detritus piled atop the dining room table. I wanted my son to be warmed and healed by the singing and blessings of Shabbos, not distracted by all that junk on the horizon.
I hurried to clear the table. Before kiddush, my husband bent lovingly over our by-then sleeping child, who would miraculously be back to himself on Sunday, and blessed him as he does all our boys every Shabbos.
I got to the setting-the-table-on-Thursday-night thing on my own soon after, thanks to that initial tug from my husband and a bigger push from the Big Guy Upstairs. In a quiet compromise, I spread out the tablecloth before heading to bed, and our middle son puts out the plates on Friday after he comes home from school.
As a bonus, the atmosphere here on Fridays has changed. I’m not sitting around eating bonbons with my feet up, but I no longer run around like a chicken without a head in a mad dash to candle lighting. And because the transition from the work week into the holiness of Shabbat is more peaceful, our seventh day is filled with more peace, too.
Though I still haven’t officially conceded the point to my husband, he knows—but he’s too kind to say he told me so. It’s a happy corollary to our initial arrangement, and it is good.