Making Shabbat

Found In: Contemporary Shabbat Practice

Tags: at the shabbat table

By Rabbi Rona Shapiro | Article

I do not think the Torah could have anticipated the busied, hurried lives we lead today, but it nonetheless provides an incredible antidote. According to the Torah, after creating the world in 6 days, God rested. We are enjoined to do the same. We refrain from recreating the world on Shabbat and we sit back and enjoy what we have been given. Literally, we smell the roses. Too many of us, to paraphrase John Bradshaw, have become "human doings" who define ourselves by what we do in the world. Shabbat teaches us to remember our true essence as "human beings" and to practice the art of simply being. For some of us, this has become difficult. Accustomed as we are to our palm pilots and filofaxes, we hardly know how to slow down. Even our children are so busy with soccer practice, violin lessons, and homework that they too lack experience in doing nothing.

On Shabbat, we let time unfold. There is time to sing and to nap, to make love and to talk without a deadline or goal. There is time to watch an inchworm ease its way up toward the leaf and time to jump in leaf piles. Shabbat enables us to reconnect to ourselves, to one another, and to God, and to appreciate our blessings.

Although families find all different ways to celebrate Shabbat in ways that are meaningful to them, the important thing is that there is a period of time every week that is just for family. For some families it is 25 hours, for others it is just Friday night. Some use it as a family fun day and go to the beach, the museum or bowling. Others observe some or all of the strictures of Shabbat and abstain from using money, the telephone, etc. What follows is some of my family's experience celebrating Shabbat along with some tips from other families.

Friday

While Shabbat officially begins at the moment of sundown on Friday night, Shabbat does not really come of its own accord — we have to make Shabbat. In our family this consists of shopping, cooking, cleaning, setting the table with a tablecloth, special dishes, flowers and the good silverware, kiddush cups, the challah cover, etc. It is a great deal of effort and one that would not be worth going to, were it not for the rewards that follow. Of course, everyone is expected to help out to the extent that they are capable. While it is very worthwhile for children to learn that making something, even free time, requires a great deal of effort and preparation (kind of like a camping trip), some weeks we simply cannot do it. On those weeks I have learned that it is better to order in pizza, light candles and make kiddush all the same rather than forego the celebration of Shabbat.

Friday-Night Dinner

Generally speaking, we have guests on Friday — our children find it lonely to bring in Shabbat alone. We go through all the traditional rituals and add some of our own. We light candles, one for each member of the family, and bless them together as we wave our hands and bring the light of Shabbat into each of our neshamot (souls). We sing Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the visiting angels, and often we pass out angel cards (small cards, each with a picture of an angel and word like "love," "harmony," or "compassion" ) and each person chooses one. After we have finished with the song, everyone turns over his or her card. If the quality it features — love, compassion, peace, patience, etc. — seems appropriate, they keep it. If not, they can exchange it.

Then we make kiddush over wine. (What follows is just the blessing over wine. The whole kiddush will be found in the Shabbat section of ritualwell or in any prayerbook.)

Kiddush Over Wine

Traditional Masculine Blessing

Barukh Attah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam borei p'ri ha-gafen.

Traditional Feminine Blessing

B'rukhah At Yah Eloheinu ruach ha-olam boreit p'ri ha-gafen.

You are blessed, Our God, Spirit of the World, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Non-gendered Blessing

The following alternative kiddush was written by Marcia Falk, a prominent Jewish feminist liturgist. Her blessings avoid the problem of God’s gender because they do not reference God as a person-like being. In addition, they locate the power of blessing with the people ("Let us bless…" rather than with God’s inherent blessedness ("Blessed are you…)

N'varekh et Ein Ha-chayim matzmichat p'ri ha-gafen.

Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.

Excerpted from The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath and the New Moon Festival; Harper, 1996; paperback edition, Beacon, 1999; © 1996 Marcia Lee Falk. Used by permission of the author. www.marciafalk.com

I usually lead the kiddush — I leave out random syllables as I chant it, cueing my children to fill them in. Next we bless each of our children together. The traditional blessing is:

Traditional Parental Blessing

This blessing is traditionally used every Friday evening by parents when blessing their children.

May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
OR
May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.

May the Holy One bless you and keep you.
May the Holy One shine light upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Holy One turn towards you and give you peace.

For a Girl:

Y'simeikh Elohim k'Sarah Rivkah Rachel v'Le'ah
Y'vorekh Adonai v'yishmereikh.
Ya'er Adonai panav eilayikh vi'chunayich.
Yisa Adonai panav eilayich v'yasem lach shalom.

For a Boy:

Y'simcha Elohim k'ephrayim u-khim'nashe.
Y'varekh'kha Adonai v'yishm'rekha
Ya'er Adonai panav eilekha vichunneka.
Yisa Adonai panav eilekha v'yasem l'cha shalom.

Feminine God language:

T'varekh otakh Adonai v'tishm'rekh
Ta'er Adonai paneha eilayich v't'chunekh
Tisa Adonai paneha elayich v'tasem lach shalom.

Marcia Falk, a contemporary feminist liturgist offers her own version of this blessing. Instead of wishing that the child be like someone else, this blessing asks that the child be as s/he is.

To a girl:

___________, Hayi asher tih'yi va-hayi b'rukhah ba-asher tih'yi.

To a boy:

__________, Heyei asher tih'yeh v'heyeh barukh ba-asher tih'yeh.

(child's name), Be who you are — and may you be blessed in all that you are.

Excerpted from The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival, Harper 1996, © 1996 Marcia Lee Falk. Used by permission of the author. www.marciafalk.com

When we began this practice after our eldest was born, we felt a little uncomfortable with the language. What if our children were not like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, or Leah? We therefore added an additional line asking God to enable them to become who they are.

At first, we blessed them on their heads. As time went on, our eldest began to object to this practice and squirm away when we tried to bless her. So, we began to ask her where she wanted her blessing. She would choose a body part — foot, back, etc. — and we would bless her there. I then add an additional blessing for that part of the body — "may you walk in good places this week," "may you hold your friends' hands," etc. Some children also bless their parents.

Traditionally at this point the husband sings Eshet Chayil, "A Woman of Valor," to his wife. Although this poem has its merits, it didn't really speak to us. Still, we felt a need for some way of acknowledging and blessing one another. Marcia Falk, in her book, The Book of Blessings, suggests the reading of verses from Song of Songs. These are quite beautiful but feel, for us, a bit too intimate at a table with children and other guests. Sometimes, we retreat to the kitchen and say a few private words to one another. Sometimes we remove our rings for hand-washing (when you ritually wash, there is not supposed to be anything between your skin and the water) and then instead of putting them back on ourselves, we put them on each other's fingers. Although we don't usually say anything when we do this, it reminds us of our wedding, and so it feels very sweet without being too public.

Then we say motzi over the challah (this is now my 5-year old's job), we pull it apart, and we eat!

B'rukhah At Ya Eloheinu Ruach Ha-olam ha-motziah lechem min ha-aretz.

Barukh Attah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Ha-olam ha-motzi lekhem min ha-aretz.

During the meal we go around and ask everyone to say a highlight or blessing from their week. We usually have a special meal  several courses, dessert (during the week we only have fruit for dessert) and wine. We excuse the children early on but they come back for dessert.

Saturday

On Saturday morning we often go to synagogue. We are active participants in our synagogue's tot Shabbat (children's service), which many synagogues offer. This is a time of singing, storytelling, and sharing as children begin to learn the basics of the service. On other Saturdays we choose to stay home and hang out or go to the park, the beach, the garden, etc.

We have a few basic rules for Shabbat that we try to stick to, although sometimes we vary them and sometimes we decide to modify them altogether. We do not use the telephone, the television, the computer, the stereo or the radio and we do not allow our children to play with electronic toys. They object to this but, at this juncture, we enjoy the peace and we think it is good discipline. We do not write on Shabbat but we do allow them to do artwork. We generally do not spend money but sometimes we do — we have memberships at all the local attractions within walking distance — the botanical gardens, the museum and the zoo — so we do not need to spend money to visit those places. We often pack a picnic if we go to the park or the beach but sometimes we do decide to buy an ice cream or to go out for lunch. What we don't do is go shopping! We do drive on Shabbat, and though I would love not to, I also want to engage in certain activities — visiting friends, going to the beach — that require car travel. This is a work in progress and will change as our children get older and voice their opinions. (As of this rereading, we no longer use money on Shabbat and we have stopped driving to synagogue, although we still drive to other locations.

What we always do is spend the day together doing things we all enjoy. We find that eliminating some of the distractions of the week — shopping, telephone calls, TV, email — enables us to clear the palette, as it were, and focus more on one another. On long, summer Shabbatot we often spend time one-on-one with our children. If possible, we try for each of the adults to get a nap — ideally, the kids nap too, but that seems to be a rare treat.

We also try to find time to study Torah. This is new for us to do with our children since they are still very young. Often my daughter's day school sends home questions on the parasha, which we review. Or I simply discuss the events of the parasha with her. If we are not sure of something, we make a point of looking it up together. There are a few Jewish children's Bibles available (The Jewish Children's Bible by Sheryl Prenzlau (Pitspopany Press, 1999) is a 5-volume illustrated set which covers each Torah portion more or less completely; The Illustrated Jewish Bible for Children by Selina Hastings (DK, 1997) is less extensive but beautifully illustrated. Other titles include: A Child's Garden of Torah: A Read-Aloud Bedtime Bible by Joel Lurie Grishaver, Sedra Scenes: Skits for Every Torah Portion by Stan J. Beiner (skits for each Torah portion), God's Garden: Children's Stories Grown From the Bible, by Adam Fisher (stories based upon each Torah portion with thoughtful questions). We also have a deck of Shabbat cards — each one has a question meant to inspire thoughtful discussion.

Shabbat is a touchstone for the rest of the week. While it does not always work perfectly — sometimes we are grumbly, sometimes there is fighting — I appreciate that it is 25 hours long. Then I feel that even if some part of it doesn't go well, it is long enough that there will be some part or parts of the day when we will feel connected, rested, and restored. At the conclusion of Shabbat, we make havdalah. After an intense day of family, it is always my preference to have a date with my husband on Saturday night — and we do, as often as possible (usually every other week).