Doing Shabbos When You Can't Do Shabbos

Here I am again with the sun going down on a Friday night and no challah (traditional egg bread) in the oven, no chicken or roast in the oven, not table set for dinner, not even candles prepared for Shabbat. The house is clean, thanks to Oliva, but no one will be home to enjoy the clean space, if not the sacred space, created for the Sabbath. In fact, no one will be doing Shabbos at our home…again.

It seems that as my kids have gotten older, Shabbat, along with a host of other holidays and Jewish practices, have fallen by the wayside or been tabled to accommodate their activities and schedules. It isn’t that no one is interested in Jewish stuff anymore. It just seems Jewish stuff doesn’t fit into secular life – especially on Friday nights.

That’s nothing new. This has been the bane of Jewish life forever. It not an easy life to lead when everyone around you leads a secular life. I refuse, however, to make my kids give up being in charge of costumes and make up for the school play, because it means they won’t make it to Simchat Torah services this year or Shabbat dinner this week. I won’t disallow my kids to join a swim team or a dance program, because it means they (and I) won’t be able to go to Friday night or Saturday morning Shabbat services most weeks.

When they were younger, we made the Jewish stuff a priority. It didn’t stop them from doing the secular stuff. Now, however, the secular stuff needs to be a priority. The dancing will be my son’s career. The costuming will by my daughter’s career. These activities bring them joy. And the get done on Fridays, and sometimes they are required to be done on Saturdays.

What that means for me is that I have to find a way to do Shabbos even when I can’t do Shabbos. I have to find a way to have, at the very least, a Shabbos mindset – one of peace and joy – even when I can’t “do Shabbos” – by stopping work and going to services. I have to find time to invite in the Shechinah, the Divine Feminine Presence, and to welcome her into my life, if not my home, for 25 hours each week. (Well, to be more realistic, maybe I have to invite her in for a few hours.) And I need to find time to light the Shabbat candles, even (dare I say it) if it is when I get home at 10 p.m. from my daughter’s play or my son’s rehearsal.

I used to refuse to do anything I didn’t want to do on Shabbat: No laundry, bill paying, shopping. I can avoid some of that, but I can’t just stay home or go to services, at  least not these days. I can, though,  find time while I wait for my daughter’s swim practice to end to read a Jewish spiritual book, or the Torah portion for the week. I can focus my thoughts on Shabbat.

I have to remember that I can, indeed, do Shabbos even when it appears that I can’t do Shabbos. Someone more Orthodox may disagree, but I think God would agree. After all, it’s a bit like the story told about the man who came to the synagogue to pray but didn’t know the prayers. He recited the aleph bet (Hebrew alphabet) instead. He trusted God to put the letters together into the correct words and sentences to construct the prayers. I trust that God will get my intention, will get the feeling of my attempt to observe Shabbat even when I can’t do so in the traditional manner. He’ll put it all together.

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