Rabbi Goldmintz’s young grandson was seriously injured just before Sukkot and needs your tefillot. Please daven for Aharon Meir ben Yael Miriam. This article is dedicated in the merit of his refuah shelaima.
How different is Shabbat from any other day of the week? Is it just a day where the food is better than we might otherwise serve, where the clothes are a little fancier than we might otherwise wear to the table? Is it just a day when we finally eat one or two meals together as a family when during the week we otherwise pass one another in the night? Rav Soloveitchik wrote movingly about Shabbat being all about welcoming HaKadosh Baruch Hu into our midst (as opposed to Yom Tov when we visit His house). Yet do our kids really feel that on Friday night? Is there something palpable about His presence or do we just take it all for granted? I am told that my grandfather used to feel badly for non-Jews because “they don’t have Shabbos.” Yet some teens lament that that they find it confining and boring and, G-d forbid, have been tempted to give it up. How do we inject our Shabbat with passion?
Rav Soloveitchik, would often bemoan the lack of passion in our community. With regard to Shabbat he once described this phenomenon not as it related to the unaffiliated and uncommitted but to the thriving Orthodox “shomre shabbos” communities as well. At the same time, he gave the hint to at least one partial solution.
“Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the ‘sanctity of Shabbat.’ True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbat… But it is not for Shabbat that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten ‘erev Shabbat’ (eve of the Sabbath). There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbat’ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!” (On Repentance, pp. 97-98)
We talk a lot about Shabbat itself but Shabbat really begins with the preparations beforehand. Just think of Shabbat as a guest. (After all, in shul on Friday night we do sing a song (Lecha Dodi) welcoming the Sabbath bride into our midst and at home we sing Shalom Aleichem to welcome the angels who accompany us.) What would we do in our homes if we knew an important guest was coming? More importantly, what role would we have our children play in the preparations to welcome that guest?
We all know that part of the excitement of an event lies not only in the event itself but in the preparation for it as well. The joy of making a bar/bat mitzvah, a wedding, a bris or the like, is very much shaped by the preparations, even though they can be very hard work indeed. Similarly, going out on a date, entails more than just the few hours a couple ultimately spend together. It usually often involves the preparation — deciding what to wear, where you are going to eat or the like, making reservations, coordinating transportation and sometimes even thinking about what the topics of conversation will be. Shabbat should be that kind of experience for it is, after all, a date with the Shechinah, God’s presence, which we welcome into our community and our home. In general, the more we prepare for something the more invested we become.
And so it should come as no surprise that preparing for Shabbat is actually a mitzvah – it’s called kvod shabbat (honor of the Shabbat) – and it takes place entirely before Shabbat even begins. And, most important, it seems that no one is exempt–despite the traditional burden that has fallen on women. The Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 30:7) summarizes the pre-Shabbat practices of a number of venerated rabbis and scholars:
Even a very important person who is unaccustomed to buying items at the marketplace or to doing housework is required to perform tasks to prepare by himself for the Sabbath. This is an expression of his own personal honor. [commentary: rather than think that involving himself in such activities will be demeaning, he should appreciate that these deeds will enhance his honor. Even if it is possible to have others perform these tasks for one, it is preferable to carry out certain deeds oneself. For there is nothing more honorable than to give honor to the Sabbath. In this context, Rabbenu Chanan’el refers to Kiddushin 41a, “It is more of a mitzvah [to perform a positive action] oneself, rather than [to charge] an agent [with its performance].”
The Sages of the former generations [would involve themselves in such activities]: There was one who would cook, one who would salt meat, one would braid wicks, and one who would kindle the lamps. Others would go out and purchase food and beverages for the Sabbath, even though this was not their ordinary practice. The more one involves oneself in such activities, the more praiseworthy it is.” (translation from Chabad.org)
If it was good enough for the likes of Raba and Rav Huna, Rabba and Rav Zeira, then surely it should be good enough for us and for our kids.
In a class I once taught in the tenth grade about kvod Shabbat, I used to give students a homework assignment to do something different that week in preparation for Shabbat (without sharing it with family so that it would remain a very personal, private act.) One student helped his mother set the table. His mother couldn’t believe it–she wanted to know if he was feeling ok. Another boy cleaned up his room (different mom, same reaction.) One student did some cooking, another decided not to take her usual long nap through supper. For some kids it was an eye-opener; for others doing it once or twice was just not enough to have an impact. But if we were to insist when our kids are younger that they get involved in preparations of some kind, there is less likelihood that they will just fall into Shabbat as a passive observer.
If they don’t yet have them, kids should be given weekly jobs to do before Shabbat. It doesn’t have to be “salting the meat” or “braiding the wicks” but there are surely enough things to be done to instill the sense that there is an important guest coming. Make challah or dessert together or make your child responsible for one dish. Younger children can fold napkins or set the table, clean one’s room, help with the cooking, take the garbage out, the list is endless. When my hours at work prevented me from coming home in time to help out in any meaningful way before Shabbat, I took it upon myself to prepare my wife’s candlesticks, taking them out, putting in the candles, testing the wicks to make sure they would light easily, leaving the matches nearby. This wasn’t the biggest contribution in the world but it sent a message both to myself and my kids that you don’t just fall into Shabbat. Because the more it “just happens” by itself the more one potentially comes to take it for granted or be bored by it. People I know who have household help still instruct them not to do specific things so that members of the household can pitch in before Shabbat. And the trick here is to do things that contribute to the household (cleaning, cooking, table-setting) and not just oneself (take a shower, change your clothes). It is when we give of ourselves to others, be it to family or to God, that passion rears its head again, for what is boredom but the feeling of un-involvement?
Actively involving our kids in preparing for Shabbat, then, can be a key component in bringing honor to Shabbat, to themselves and to one’s family. And it can also lead to the creation of something our community may be sorely lacking: more erev Shabbat Jews.
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.