Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion
How many of you were here last year for our wonderful Shabbat Across America? If you were, then you already know what I’m going to talk about, because Deb Spector set the agenda for me.
Do you remember? Deb offered us a wonderful, funny, warm d’var last year which reminded us all that it's sometimes hard to bring to life those two mitzvot, memorialized by our two candles: remember Shabbat and keep Shabbat. It’s hard because here we are in a busy secular world, with distractions, material plenty, and lots of choices about how to spend Friday night and Saturday.
Deb reflected on how we can remember Shabbat, bring Shabbat peace into our homes, even if it means some new ways of thinking about Shabbat, even if it means inventing a blessing for the dog. And Deb said to us, "Let’s keep it really simple – Friday night only – and meet next year to talk about Saturday."
So let’s say you’ve made a little progress on the remembering part, on Friday night: candles and blessings, challah and hugs and kisses, a special meal, maybe you come to the synagogue and enjoy some time for prayer, meditation and peace, some good fellowship.
Now here I am, to talk about Saturday. Saturday is when you might say the second part of the mitzvah comes into play: you remembered Shabbat Friday night; now, Saturday, let’s keep Shabbat.
What does Saturday mean in Oak Park? Possibly "Shabbat" is not the first answer that leaps to your mind. Possibly you will instantly rattle off the weekend to-do list: shopping, kids’ sports, household chores. So you might say, Saturday doesn’t mean anything to me Jewishly. It’s certainly not Shabbat, I don’t hesitate to drive, handle money, kindle fire on this day.
But don’t be hasty.
When my daughter attended preschool here at OPT many years ago, she had a particularly wonderful teacher who used to say that being Jewish was incredibly special because we get a holiday every week.
A holiday – a holy day. Every week!
How can we keep the holiness of the Shabbat we welcomed Friday night? I’m here tonight to suggest that a little bit of holiness, specialness, difference on Shabbat can enrich our lives way out of proportion to the few hours we might give to the effort. We just have to make Saturday feel like a holiday.
I’ll follow Deb’s footsteps for another moment, and use my own personal experience as an example. Some Shabbat mornings we come to services here, especially for Learner’s Services. But I have found that Shabbat afternoon tends to be our special time. Essential errands are done, basketball or baseball or soccer is over, and we’re home for lunch and a quiet afternoon. These few hours beckon us. How can we take this wonderful gift of time, and make it our holiday?
Here are my own solutions. I always spend this time with my children; they’re my best company anyway, and especially for Shabbat. And I label the day, name what we are doing. "It's Shabbat afternoon, what shall we do together?" Naming the day is part of making it special. It means taking a risk of feeling a little bit inauthentic or silly, even preachy at times, using language that feels a little rusty and unfamiliar at first. But think about it: Creation of the world was effected by God’s word, and Shabbat is our memory of creation. Part of Friday night’s Kiddush is to bless the day itself. Words make things special.
My kids and I use this special time for small things, nothing grand or even, perhaps, particularly Jewish. Board games and card games, baking, even doing homework together if we’re so inclined. Sometimes a trip to a museum. Never TV or shopping; I want us to be able to talk undistracted. We're just together and we are talking about how great it is to be together, that Shabbat means love and care for each other, and that this is a way of remembering God’s acts of creation and of freeing us from slavery.
OK, maybe it's not exactly written in Torah to keep Shabbat with Monopoly and Parchisi and a jigsaw puzzle. But no matter what you do on Saturday, the point is to separate the day from all other days. To take a deeper breath in the morning and appreciate this incredibly special world. To hug the kids and remind them that this is our holiday that we get, every week, just because being Jewish is very special. To phone a friend for a more leisurely chat than usual, because just this day we won’t rush around and let the world dictate our schedule.
Just like welcoming and remembering Shabbat on Friday night, keeping Shabbat on Saturday takes a little getting used to. But the rewards are there. Our tradition teaches that we each receive an extra soul for the duration of Shabbat. After what I have begun to call our Shabbat "special time," I have to say I think we all feel healthier, move loving and relaxed than maybe at any other time of the week.
So this is my own perspective on how we can make the ancient truth real for us today: More than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel. I find that Shabbat does keep me going, that weekly holiday, weekly new beginning. I hope it does the same for you. Let’s all practice both remembering andkeeping Shabbat, and let’s help each other to find an authentic and spiritually enriching observance of Shabbat, and let’s all come back next year and talk about how we did it.