SLove is in the Air
Shabbat is known as a day of rest. In six days God created the world and on the seventh day He rested. How are we to understand God resting? Was God tired?
Shabbat actually means that God abstained from creating. God stopped on the seventh day, and this completed His creation of the world. The Midrash, which is a part of Jewish oral tradition, tells us that the creation of the world was actually not finished. God did not stop at the end but He stopped in the middle. This teaches us that God was not compelled to finish creation. He did not have to create the world but simply wanted to. He was free to start to create, and He was free to stop at anytime.
When we celebrate the Shabbat we are reminding ourselves that creation is God’s act of love. The highest expression of love is when you freely do what you don’t have to do. When you love somebody you not only give that person what he/she needs in order to survive but you also give him/her gifts that he/she do not need—like a diamond ring, for example. A gift like that is a sign of love. Perhaps this is why we say Kiddush over wine and not water. We could live without wine but not water.
Shabbat reminds us that life is a gift of love from God. God didn’t need to create us and we didn’t have to exist. But He did and we do. Shabbat is an opportunity to say thank you and feel the love.
Welcoming the Angels of Peace
Friday night two angels follow us home. They enter our home to see whether it is set for Shabbat. If indeed the Shabbat candles are lit and the table is set for a festive meal, then one angel blesses us that it be so next week and the other angels says “Amen.” However, if the home is not set up for Shabbat then the other angel curses us, “May it be so next week!” and his companion has to say, “Amen.” What is the meaning of this strange idea?
Shabbat is not only the end of the week, but it is also the beginning of our upcoming week. It sets the course for the days to come. If a woman sets sail on a boat from Los Angles with the destination being Japan however her initial launch is 1% off then she will continue in a straight light but land in New Zealand.
The beginning of our journey determines the destiny of our life. Angels are the spiritual forces that surround us daily. They do not determine our direction. They simply channel energy to us, so that we can carry on in the direction that we have chosen. This is the meaning of the Talmudic teaching, “In the direction that a person chooses to go, they guide him … If a person wants to pursue purity they will help him. If a person wants to pursue impurity they will open the door.”
Friday night we determine whether the journey of our upcoming week will be towards the holiness of the next Shabbat or not. We choose whether it will be a source of blessing or curse. We decide, and our angels reinforce our decision. When we come home to a table set for Shabbat then we have good reason to joyously welcome our angels and their blessings.
Eshet Chail: Woman of Strength
In Jewish tradition women exemplify the power for commitment, devotion and loyalty. Rarely will you find a female villain in the Bible. Eshet Chail is a song written by King Solomon that praises the Jewish women, but also the Jewish people for their outstanding loyalty to God—comparing them to a wife who is faithful to her husband.
Jewish history has not been a merry-go-round. Our faith in God has been challenged over and over again, and yet, in general, the Jewish people have continued to show faith in God and commitment to the ideals and values that God gave us in the Torah.
Most people seem to know what traditionally we don’t do on Shabbat. We don’t turn on and off lights, we don’t tear toilet paper, we don’t ride in cars, buses or trains etc. However, few know what we do on Shabbat. Shabbat is dedicated to making time sacred. With the recital of the Kiddush over a brimming cup of wine, we begin this process.
On Shabbat, we sip and savor every moment like a fine wine. This makes every moment sacred. I once saw an ad promoting a new Broadway comedy called Nothin’s Sacred. Nothing is sacred means that every thing, every one, and every moment is a just a means to some other end. Is everything, everyone, and every moment just a stepping stone?
When we recite the Kiddush on the eve of Shabbat we remind ourselves that God did not need to create us. Life is not a means to an end. Life is God’s creation of love. And love is not a means to an end—it is an end unto itself. The purpose of love is love. With Kiddush we proclaim every moment to be a sacred time for love between God and us.
After their Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people wondered in the desert for 40 years. During that time they ate manna—a food that miraculously fell from the sky daily. On Fridays, however, a double portion would suddenly appear in preparation for Shabbat. The two loafs of bread remind us of this double portion. What’s the message?
Imagine you’re in the desert and suddenly food falls from the sky. You are awestruck by this outright miracle. But when it happens day after day, the awe wears off and it becomes just part of the ordinary. Along comes the sixth day and suddenly double the amount appears, and you realize that what seemed to be ordinary is really extraordinary and miraculuos. Shabbat breaks our weekly routine to remind us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and celebrate the miracle of our everyday lives.
Washing our hands
God has lovingly prepared everything and every moment for our benefit and pleasure. Both the spiritual and the physical are filled with God’s endless love for us. It’s all about love. Therefore, before the meal, we wash our hands in a ritual way to prepare ourselves for sacred eating. The purpose of our Shabbat meal is not to finish our plates, fill our fuel tanks, and get on with the race of life. Rather sacred eating is about enjoying every bite and tasting the love in the food.
Judaism teaches that eating is a service to God. How can stuffing ourselves be a divine service? When we enjoy life, we are serving God’s purpose, because God created us to give us pleasure.
The Blessing over the Bread
After we wash our hands we do not speak until after we have said (or heard) the blessing over the bread and completely enjoyed our first bite of bread. This is in order to remember that we washed in preparation of the holy service of eating.
The blessing for the bread goes like this: Blessed be You God, King of the universe, Who has brought forth bread from the earth. This essentially means, “Lets there be an increase in the awareness that You, God, are the source of bread.”
Bread is a symbol of human ingenuity and power. Money is called “bread” or “dough,” and providers for the home are called “breadwinners.” Although bread provides us with great nourishment it can also feed our ego. This blessing reminds us that—although it took great human efforts and intelligence to make this bread—ultimately it is all a gift from God. Therefore, we humbly and gratefully receive the works of our hands as no less a gift from God as the manna from the heavens.
We further add to the sacredness of the meal and the day with songs. Songs are especially helpful in putting us into a restful and sacred state of mind. Songs teach us to enjoy the journey. We never sing a song in order to get to the last note. Rather we enjoy every note. We accompany our meal with singing to remind ourselves to enjoy every moment and bite of our meal, without feeling rushed to finish.
Thankfulness is the key to living a full life. Rather than always focusing on what we are missing we need to be sure that we are thankful for what we already have. The Kabbalah teaches that unless we thank God for our food it can only nourish our body, but not our souls. Souls need love. Food nourishes our souls only after we acknowledge that it is actually a love-filled gift from God.