Posted on: December 30, 2010
Funny thing happened in 2010. Christmas Eve and now New Years Eve both fall on Shabbat. For Christmas I was at work (Christmas Eve) and didn’t get home in time to light my Shabbat candles. Tomorrow, though, I get off work early and plan on coming home to have Shabbat dinner with Mirs before heading to our friend’s house to ring in the new year.
I’m finishing up Reuven Hammer’s amazing book, Entering Jewish Prayer. The chapter I’m in currently is about Shabbat. It’s always exciting for me to read more in depth information about Shabbat. When I was taking the other conversion class I was given a book on Shabbat. The title I cannot remember but it wasn’t very inspiring and didn’t go deep into Shabbat practices and traditions. Rather, it gave a sort of brief outline and description of Shabbat. Nearly every book that I’ve read has a chapter devoted to Shabbat and in it usually you will find traditions, history, and perhaps a bit of information on prayer. The great thing about Hammer’s book is that it give the tradition and history, but in-depth information about the prayers, their history, and their place in Jewish history. The meaning of why I do things is more important that just doing them. As I continue to read, it makes me want to have a complete traditional Shabbat meal.
Nearly every Friday night I will try to make it to shul. When I get back I light Shabbat candles (late) with Mirs and we eat challah and drink wine. She may have cooked dinner or I will have cooked. We catch up with one another and enjoy each other. We say the blessings over the candles and the challah, but never the wine, and apparently never properly.
I’m always conscious to tread lightly when it comes to my desires of Jewish practice and Mirs Jewish tradition and up-bringing. I try not to tsk or get exasperated when she rushes through the blessings but after reading Hammer’s thorough description of a Shabbat meal, I want to do it “right.” Traditionally, you aren’t supposed to kindle a flame after Shabbat begins.
“Originally, lamps were kindled before the Sabbath began, in order to make certain that the house would be illuminated on the Sabbath. Once Sabbath begins, it is forbidden to kindle flame…Whenever a blessing is recited, it is immediately followed by the action that is the subject of the blessing. On Hanukkah, for example, we recite the blessings and then we kindle the flames…On Sabbath one is forbidden to light a flame, yet how can a blessing for Sabbath candles be recited when it is not yet the Sabbath? The Solution was to light them, cover the eyes, recite the blessing, and then uncover the eyes and look at the flame. Looking at the candles became the action performed after saying the blessings.”
Hammer then continues by quoting information from the midrash. Now, I’m not saying he’s an expert and I’m sure that many other people have their ideas, which is the beauty of Judaism, but this idea makes sense to me. I’ve always read that a woman covers her eyes for concentration, for quiet prayer, because it is at that moment that she is one with God. All of those reasons make sense to me as well but logistically, Hammer’s explanation helps quiet my questioning mind. I’d always wondered how I was supposed to light the candles after Shabbat started and didn’t have an answer until this afternoon on the B Train home. Let me take this time to point out that I don’t and sometimes cannot have a “traditional” Shabbat meal. I rarely get home before dark, I always miss candle lighting times, and we watch television, I blog, and we use electricity. When I talk about my desire to have a traditional Shabbat meal I’m referring to the desire to have a meaningful, prayerful Shabbat meal.
The chapter on Shabbat and Holidays has inspired me to host a traditionally Shabbat meal with 2 loaves of challah, kiddish, song, and prayer. I’m not sure when this Shabbat meal will occur or who I’ll invite but it’s on my list. Currently we do a little bit of this a little bit of that. It’s hard to not push too much with Mirs when she’s making giant leaps and bounds in terms of what she wants out of her Jewish life. Coupled by the fact that what I want out of my Jewish life isn’t the same as hers I’m happy. She always makes a point to go out and purchase wine and challah every Friday night. She makes sure we have candles and matches, she wishes me a good Shabbos. What else can I ask for?
After our Hanukkah party we talked about hosting a Seder for Pesach but looking at the calendar, I realized we passed right over Purim, my favorite Jewish Holiday. There’s a joke that I keep hearing about Jewish Holidays that’s along the lines of, they tried to beat us, we fought, we won, let’s eat. I love it and it always makes me chuckle but there’s so much more meaning to all of the Holidays beyond those basic ideas of war and feast. I’m excited about learning what those meanings are and including them into our Holiday and Shabbat traditions. I regret not telling the story of the Maccabees on Hanukkah. Rest assured, if we have a Purim party that story will be told to our guests…until we cannot remember it.