‘Shabbat Shalom again’

“Knickers Abroad; a multiple journey”

by

Rose D. Kaye

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For a complete list of chapters in numerical order please go to this page.

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Chapter Fifteen

‘Shabbat Shalom again’

Friday, the second Friday of our holiday and a cold, gray damp day once more had our tropical loving skin shivering. Looking outside, an executive decision was made to stay in as we had major plans to meet Jo and Drizel on Saturday and needed to recuperate after the previous evening’s gala theatre outing. After a light lunch, (saving room for dinner) we snuggled up on the couch and watched ‘Moulin Rouge’ on video and “helped” Ann with the cooking. We hadn’t seen the movie before and Ann kept popping her head around the corner to sing and dance to her favorite tunes. We laughed and talked and had the most marvelous afternoon. As it turns out it was the same the entire week; she didn’t need any help cooking as she’d been doing this for her family a long time. Ann keeps a kosher kitchen and for our needs we had eaten off milky dishes most of the week. Shabbat was for meaty dishes and a finer grade of china at that.

Since the first Friday was the day of arrival and we had all been a little groggy, I took this opportunity as we rested to ask about the specific rituals we had witnessed a week ago. Ann was delighted to explain about Friday nights and why Saturday was a day of rest in the Jewish faith.

After preparing food and cleaning all day, as sunset drew near, Ann bathed and dressed up in finer clothes and then approached the sideboard where two white candles stood ready. She told us that it is a mitzvah (commandment from God) for Jewish women to light several candles every Friday night, in order to usher in Shabbat, the day of rest. In the Jewish tradition the wife generally has more influence over the spirit of the home, therefore Ann had always lit the Shabbat candles in her household. I asked what happens if a man lives alone, and she replied then he should light the candles just as he should if his wife for any reason is unable to perform this mitzvah herself.

“Ann, I have a question here if you don’t mind?”

“Not at all Dewy, I’ll be happy to answer any questions.”

“Is there a special way to display and light the candles?”

“Well Dewy, the candles must be placed where they can be seen and away from any breeze so their flame can spread light around the room. In addition they must burn naturally for at least 3-4 hours and not be extinguished.”

“And if they stop burning or are extinguished Ann?”

“It doesn’t matter too much Brian as the mitzvah was still performed.”

“Rose, when you wrote this next part of the chapter, what were your thoughts at the time?”

“Dewy I remember feeling included in Ann’s family blessing. The first Friday we were all so tired and hadn’t really been able to grasp the nuances, but this day was different. As you will read we had a more in-depth discussion this evening as to the specific ceremonies that take place every Friday in many Jewish homes around the world.”

Before proceeding with the actual lighting, Ann went on to explain why two candles are kindled, one specifically to ‘remember’ and the other to specifically ‘observe’ the Sabbath day as referenced from the following passages. The first is the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” and Deuteronomy 5:12 “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” In some households the mother lights extra candles for her children, but it is Ann’s minhag (tradition) to light two only. In Israel her daughter-in-law lights four candles as she has two children; that is her minhag.

After lighting the candles, Ann waved her hands three times over the flame and then covered her eyes and recited the following blessing in Hebrew.

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath light.”

When she finished reciting the blessing, she uncovered her eyes and stood quietly for a brief period of time before picking up a prayer book and reading silently to herself in Hebrew another prayer for her family. She explained later that she finds this prayer particularly meaningful and heartfelt as a mother asking Hashem to shine his countenance on her family.

“May it be your will Hashem, my God and God of my forefathers, that You show favor to me, my sons, my daughters, my mother, my grandchildren and all my relatives; and that You grant us and all Israel a good and long life; that You remember us with a beneficent memory and compassion; that You bless us with great blessings; that You make our households complete; that You cause Your Presence to dwell among us. Privilege me to raise children and grandchildren who are wise and understanding, who love Hashem and fear God, people of truth, holy offspring, attached to Hashem, who illuminate the world with Torah and good deeds and with every labor in the service of the Creator. Please, hear my supplication at this time, in the merit of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, our mothers, and cause our light to illuminate that it be not extinguished forever, and let Your countenance shine so that we are saved. Amen”

After Ann had finished her prayer, I could sense a deep sense of peace and harmony wash over her. Her smile as she turned to us was relaxed and joyful and we returned it with equal measure. We chatted amiably while we waited for her family to arrive, this week we would meet her mother for the first time. In preparation Ann had dressed the table with a white tablecloth, set six places with her best ‘meat’ dishes along with the wine, salt and challot. By lighting the candles and ushering in Shabbat, the light served as a physical and spiritual boundary between the workweek and the twenty-five hours of rest to come. In fact the entire week in the Jewish faith is structured to lead up to Shabbat and the day of rest mandated by God.

When Jamie arrived home from synagogue and we were seated around the Shabbat table, (Jamie explained some of the proceedings as we went along and he gave us books in Hebrew with the phonetics and the translation) Shabbat was welcomed by a song called Shalom Aleichem “Peace be unto You”. This is a welcoming and an offer of hospitality to the angels who accompany worshipers and the Bride (as the Shabbat Queen, the symbolic presence of Shabbat is sometimes called) home from synagogue.

“Angels of peace, may your coming be in peace; bless me with peace and bless my prepared table. May your departure be in peace, from now and forever. Amen”

Everyone round the table sang this song with happiness and joy. Smiles filled with love were exchanged and we felt part of the song. Shalom Aleichem! It is the old traditional greeting used when two Jews meet in addition to the name of the song that begins the Shabbat meal Friday night. Shalom Aleichem — May peace be upon you. We indeed felt peaceful and welcomed. Shalom… peace… from the Hebrew word shalem, which means complete.

“Ann, from your standpoint, what is the meaning of this song? By singing “Shalom Aleichem” with such joy and love what do you accomplish?”

“On the most basic level Dewy, by singing this song, we are asking God to bless our home with peace; that there should be no conflict between friends or family, especially on Shabbat. The Talmud says that when a man comes homes from shul on Friday night, a good angel and a bad angel accompany him. If the table is beautifully set and there is a peaceful atmosphere in the home, then the good angel says, “So may it be next week,” and the bad angel is forced to say, “Amen!” (So may it be!) However, if the house is in a poor emotional and physical state then the bad angel says, “So may it be next week,” and the good angel is forced to say, “Amen!” This then is what I hope to accomplish at the end of the week, a place where my family, friends and angels feel welcome.”

“Brian, did you feel welcome as well?”

“Oh yes Dewy. Ann and her children, her mother as well as Lucy welcomed us with open hearts. This song in particular felt so warm and filled with peace.”

“Did you feel that as well Diane?”

“Yes I did Dewy. They were warm and friendly. The songs touched my heart and I could sense the love and closeness of her family.”

Next we sang Eshet Chayil, it translates as ‘A Woman of Valor’.  This hymn is customarily recited on Friday evenings, after singing “Shalom Aleichem”. It is a Jewish custom for men to recite the Eshet Chayil at the end of the week, and thus think about and be thankful for all his wife has done for him and their family throughout the past week.

After Eshet Chayil was Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Jamie poured a large ‘becher’ goblet of wine and two smaller cups, one for Brian and one for Diane then recited the Kiddush. Every household has a different custom when it comes to reciting Kiddush, some stand, some sit, some stand and sit… in Ann’s household the tradition is to stay seated.

The blessing is recited in three parts; the first is to say God had blessed the seventh day. The second part is the blessing over the wine itself and the third part is blessing God for sanctifying us with his commandments and for bringing the children of Israel from Egypt and for sanctifying the Sabbath day.

After Jamie drank of the wine, the large silver goblet was passed in turn to the others at the table while Brian and Diane drank from the small cups.

The final blessing was the motzi, the blessing over the bread. Jamie uncovered the two loaves of challah that had been draped by a decorated challah cloth.

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Jamie sliced enough challah for all of us and put salt on each piece. After eating his portion, the plate was passed around and we ate our slices. This ritual is the connection to the 40 years spent wandering in the desert by the tribes of Israel and the manna from heaven that sustained them. The dual loaves of challah represent the double helping of manna they received on the Sabbath so that the day of rest could be observed.

Now dinner could be served and what a feast it was!

Having spent two Shabbatot in Ann’s house I felt that these rituals were much more than rote recitation, but a fulfillment of the covenant with God. The words, the food, the wine all had a role in reminding us of the desire of God that humans rest once a week and reflect on the past deprivations. Throughout the Jewish year there are constant holidays and festivals that mark the relationship of a living faith.

“I’d like to add here Dewy, that I feel that Shabbat is a gift, a G-d given gift to rest with no feelings of guilt, but to accept the day in good faith and with good spirit. That is also why I was unable to join them on their Saturday outings because I don’t drive or spend money, amongst other things, on Shabbat.”

“Thank you for that, Ann. Did you feel that way as well Brian about Shabbat?”

“For myself Dewy, I have to say that although we didn’t rest on Saturday, the Friday evenings were very special. More than being mere guests in Ann’s home, Shabbat made us part of her family. I know Rose was relieved.”

“I agree Brian completely. For me having Ann and her family talk to me as Rose meant so much to me. I was worried that they would feel uncomfortable and worried. Thank you Ann for your friendship and love and for the respect I felt from your family. I sensed a larger gathering than what was around Ann’s table.”

“Diane did you also sense the connection?”

“Yes Dewy I also felt like family. Shabbat was something I excitedly looked forward to celebrating with Ann. The tradition in the ceremonies helped me feel a closeness with her family.”

We are not Jewish but the heritage of the Western religions of Christianity and Islam flows from these prayers and blessings and all three faiths worship the same God. To have faith is to have a belief in something outside of one’s self. God is a mystery far beyond the ken of mere mortals such as I. Even if you do not believe in any God whatsoever or that we are here for one life and then no more; even if your faith in humankind to do good has suffered, even then, even you would be moved by the deep faith of others.

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