Thursday, February 01, 2007

Shabbat for beginners: how to get started

The warmth and beauty of Shabbat can provide not only a day of rest, but a time of family bonding, personal growth and fulfillment.

In a heavily technological society, where we are constantly plugged in, Shabbat is a time when we can keep life in perspective. For those who don’t observe Shabbat or aren’t familiar with the customs and traditions, the thought of where to start can seem overwhelming.

"We are often hindered by the idea that if we can’t do it perfectly, we can’t do it at all," says Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin of Chabad of Greater Dayton. "People have to trust in themselves. I’m behind whatever works. I know how I got to the belief in traditional Shabbat...I found my way bit by bit to where I am now. I don’t think most people accept something just because it’s written in a book. Most people need some overwhelming reason to do it. They need to grow."

The most compelling idea behind Shabbat in modern terms is that we have to consciously make sure that we are running the machines and technology, rather than them running us, Klatzkin observes. He says that Shabbat is what we are all about — helping us to keep in perspective what we are actually working for.

"As for observances, there are ways to break into it," he says. "Lighting candles on Friday night is one of the easiest ways to get in touch and perhaps the most significant. There are many ways to make it distinctive — nicer meals, devoting time to reading Jewish books — people will find their own aspect of its specialness."

"I call it a gift that God has given to us because it’s a day of rest and a day we can use for personal growth and fulfillment," says Rabbi Hillel Fox of Beth Jacob Congregation. "It’s as if someone offered you a day of vacation. Who wouldn’t take it?"

Fox says that Shabbat conjures up feelings of joy and happiness in the Jewish psyche. Jews have survived more than 2,500 years of persecution through which Shabbat has kept us alive, morally and spiritually. "As much as Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews," he says.

Fox says the Torah teaches us to "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" or to "safeguard" Shabbat. "One way gives us an idea of what to keep away from," he says. "The other gives us positive acts to accomplish."

He offers the way that he would share the beauty and taste of Sabbath from a traditional standpoint, in what he refers to as Rabbi Hillel’s top 10 ways to start celebrating Shabbat.

"When I was little, most of my friends were not Sabbath observant," Fox recalls. "I thought it was a burden when I was a child. As I’ve grown older and matured, I realize it’s actually a gift from God. We are all so busy. I have seven kids. When I get home, they are often asleep. The Shabbat is a day we are always together. It’s a wholesome family time...a time I can really sit back and appreciate them. I don’t know how anyone can live without the Shabbos."

Rabbi Fox's top 10 ways to start celebrating Shabbat

1. Reserve time to celebrate with family. Shabbat is a special time — a time to find ourselves and reorient to make sure we are heading in the right direction.

2. Light two candles before sundown on Friday. Two candles signify remembering and safeguarding.

3. Say the Kiddush over wine or grape juice on Friday night and Saturday lunch.

4. Wash hands ritually with the blessing and say hamotzi over the bread. Use two full, uncut challahs, one for Friday night and one for Saturday lunch.

5. Eat three delicious meals and say grace after each. Thank God after each meal: it is a mitzvah to enjoy Sabbath.

6. Dress nicely. Wear clean preparing to greet a king or queen.

7. Attend synagogue services and pray — a time to come together as a community. Synagogue provides availability for individuals to elevate themselves on a spiritual plane.

8. Offer warm "Shabbat shalom/Good Shabbos" greetings and blessings.

9. Acknowledge the holy day and treat it differently. Remove or at least reduce distractions such as TVs, phones, computers, pagers, etc.

10. Conclude the Shabbat with a beautiful Havdalah ceremony. Once three stars are in the sky, Sabbath has ended. Carry the sweetness of the Shabbat into the week, with sweet wine, sweet spices and candles — the difference between light and darkness.

© 2007 The Dayton Jewish Observer

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