Sabbath Meditation: Preparing the Table and the Home

It’s Friday morning. Have you thought about Shabbat yet?

If you haven’t, you’re already behind. Getting into the Sabbath is a rhythm of life. At first the rhythm is unfamiliar. If you like Linda and I, you’ll make many missteps until Sabbath becomes regular for you. I remember the early months when we began making Shabbat regularly. We’d sometimes forget to buy something we needed. Ouch!

Deuteronomy 5:12 says “observe Shabbat” while Exodus 20:8 says “remember Shabbat.” The classical interpretation is that you do Deuteronomy 5:12 on the Sabbath and Exodus 20:8 the rest of the week. Think about it . . .

I’ve been enjoying working through Shabbat: The Family Guide to Preparing for and Celebrating the Sabbath by Dr. Ron Wolfson. See last week’s Sabbath meditation for an overview of the book.

Chapter 3 is about preparing for Shabbat. It begins with some interviewees answering questions about how they prepare for Shabbat. One guy says, “I start thinking about Shabbat when I get hassled at work.” It’s sort of the Jewish version of, “Thank God it’s Friday!” A homemaker answered, “I think about it in the middle of the week when I go shopping.”

For us at the Leman house, the preparation for Shabbat begins on Thursday. It starts with the questions, “What are we going to eat for Shabbat? What will we have for Sabbath lunch? Are we having guests this week?”

If you’re married and both of you work, Thursday is the latest you can begin preparing. You can’t get home from work on Friday night and prepare a Shabbat.

If you’re like us, with one spouse being home all day on Friday, then you can prepare all day. It’s house cleaning time. We cook two or three meals so we won’t have to cook on Saturday. We get paper plates and cups at the grocery store to make cleaning up almost non-existent on Shabbat. We set the table early so we have something to look forward to.

Wolfson talks about Shabbat being called a Queen. You prepare for the arrival of Queen Shabbat, the most special guest to enter your home all week. It’s more than setting a table and preparing food, he says, it’s also psychological. It’s time to start letting the tensions of the work week go and looking forward to the stress-reducing Shabbat in which you forget all about the other stuff. It has no place on the Sabbath. Sabbath should be a rest for the soul as well as the body.

Sabbath is a day when we refrain from buying, eating at restaurants, unnecessary travel, schoolwork, work on a job, work on the yard, and so on. Some also rest from television, telephone, and internet. It’s a different kind of day.

Wolfson talks about hiddur mitzvah, which literally means embellishing the commandment. Sabbath is more than just rest. It’s a celebration. We ought to embellish it by doing some extra things. Get out a white tablecloth. Set the table with the best china and silverware. Get flowers. Decorate a little if you can. Make it special. And don’t eat sloppy joes or ramen noodles! It’s a night for a special meal.

Also, and very importantly, just before the Sabbath starts is a great time to give tzedakah (alms or charity). Get a jar or a special tzedakah box and set aside a little money each week. You might donate it to the Jewish National Fund or a charity of choice. You might save it for people who need a little financial help.

The Sabbath is much better with preparation. It’s the missing ingredient in many Shabbats in many homes. You want to be relaxed, ready, and prepared when you shout, “Turn off the TV! It’s candlelighting time.”

About Derek Leman

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