Sabbath Meditation: The Art of Shabbat

I recently purchased Shabbat: The Family Guide to Preparing for and Celebrating the Sabbath by Dr. Ron Wolfson, the president of Synagogue 3000 (

Anyone who celebrates Shabbat and could use a few pointers or even just some inspiration would love this book. It combines interviews with a diverse set of Jewish families about their Shabbat practices with a complete order of service for the Shabbat meal with insight into the origins and wonders of Shabbat customs.

I thought I might share a few excerpts and insights from the book . . .

First, a quote I really liked, from pg.174:

Rabbi Hiyya ben Abba: The Shabbat was given for enjoyment. Rabbi Shmuel ben Nahmani: The Shabbat was given for studying Torah.

One saying does not contradict the other. Rabbi Hiyya was speaking about scholars who spend the week studying the Torah and use the Shabbat to enjoy themselves. Rabbi Shmuel was talking about workers who are busy with their work all week, and on Shabbat they come and study Torah.
–Pesikta Rabbati 121a

This is a great reminder that the Sabbath is a good time to read and/or study Torah at the table (after the meal, of course). If you’re a beginner and don’t know how to study Torah, find the Torah reading for the week on the web and at least read it at the table. You can find the Torah reading combined with other scriptural readings at our congregation website:

One of my favorite parts of the book is the series of interviews with a variety of different families. There is the traditional family, where the dad leads just about everything. There is the family recently coming back to Judaism because their kids wanted to know how to be Jews. There is the single mother who makes Shabbat only every other week when she has custody of the kids. There are the two single women who rely on families from the synagogue and havurah groups to be able to celebrate Shabbat without being alone.

Reading their observations about the Shabbat experience is inspiring. It is also educational. I learned some different ways of doing things.

One lesson I learned was the importance of looking out for singles. As we invite people to our home for Shabbat, I’ll pay more attention to the needs of singles from now on. Another is the importance of letting the kids gradually take over the leadership role. Shabbat is also about passing it on l’dor va’dor, from generation to generation.

I like what the single mom said about Shabbat being just a continuation of her regular practice:

I do Jewish things all day long. When I say “good night” to my kids every day, it’s with the Shema. That’s a Jewish thing. When I wake up my children in the morning, I say Modeh Ani. That is Jewish. That’s consistent. I don’t do extra Jewish things on Shabbat. When we go outside and see a rainbow, we quickly run inside to get a Siddur so we can say the correct berakha to say over seeing a rainbow. That’s Jewish. It’s not all Shabbat. It’s Jewishness all the time.

Her observation reminded me of the importance of godly ritual for the children and for the kingdom of heaven. Though we pray for our children at night, we’ve not been using the bedtime Shema. We’ve not been regularly praying the Modeh Ani in the morning. [If you don’t have any idea what we’re talking about, these are prayers from the Jewish prayer book, called a Siddur.]

She went on to say:

The best part of Shabbat for me is when I bless my children. I get to hug them and kiss them, and they have to stand there and take it whether they like it or not.

One of the single women said:

The biggest problem is finding a Shabbes community. I have people out here who are very close, and they are my adopted family. I’ll share Shabbat with them quite often. Or, I’ll have dinner at home and then go to synagogue. I feel that’s my community too.

It reminds me we all need to adopt singles and single parents. Shabbat is about giving as much as enjoying.

Then there is the family that used to be non-observant:

Neither Carl nor I grew up with Shabbat in our home. Originally I guess the spark came from a question that was posed to us by an introductory weekend at Brandeis by Dennis Prager: “Do you want your grandchildren to be Jewish?” We had two small boys at the time, and we said to each other that day that we wanted our children to be Jewish, and we didn’t even know why! That question really haunted us.

I think very often of my Jewish friends who are in a church or who don’t see the value of tribal ritual that honors God. It really is true. If your children don’t participate with Israel in the traditions, they won’t pass it on to their children. Your children may not be Jewish and your grandchildren almost certainly won’t. What a shame to let a chain of tradition end that is thousands of years old, and why? Because you don’t want to bother learning a little ritual? Because you married a non-Jew and are afraid to ask them to do Jewish things? Come on, what’s more important.

Finally, I like what Suzan said:

It’s a really nice moment when you yell, “Turn the TV off. It’s candlelighting time!” It’s a real nice feeling because it gets quiet . . . and I look forward to the quiet of the evening.

Amen. And as God himself said: Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. (Exodus 31:13).


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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