Going from a secular lifestyle to full-blown Shabbat observance requires significant lifestyle modifications. Adjusting to these changes can be stressful. This stress increases geometrically with the number of people affected by the shifting household rules.
Marriage is a sack race. When a couple (or family) makes this transition, it is important to move together, in the same direction, at a similar pace. This requires cooperation, accommodation, and communication. Adding ritual at the expense of family harmony is short-sighted and counter-productive.
The Aseret HaDibrot (usually translated "Ten Commandments, but "Ten Statements" is more accurate.) are found twice* in the Torah. We learn a lot from the subtle differences between the wording of the two. One of these differences is in the commandment to observe Shabbat.
In parshat Yitro the Torah commanded us "zachor" ("remember") the Sabbath day to keep it holy. In parshat V'etchanan, the Torah instead uses the word "shamor" ("guard") the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Both of these are vital aspects of Sabbath observance.
If you (or your partner) are not ready to take on the whole of Shabbat observance, try focusing less on becoming "Shomer Shabbat" than becoming, what I call, "Zocher Shabbat."
Instead of beginning by implementing a long list of restrictions and violations, seek ways to add beauty and distinction to the day:
- If you're not ready to abstain from television for all of Shabbat, resolve to watch it mindfully. Make a distinction between watching a planned movie and watching the evening news. It matters less what the distinction is, than that you've made one.
- If you come across a wonderful treat during the week, set it aside to enjoy it on Shabbat.
- Save the most wonderful meal of the week for Friday night or Saturday lunch.
- If you're not up for a whole Saturday chock-a-block with synagogue services and heavy meals, don't fill it up with laundry and errands. Make Saturday morning the time for a leisurely brunch, and save the food shopping and vacuuming for Sunday, instead.
- Try to do something (however small) every day of the week, with intent, to
prepare for Shabbat. Say to yourself, "this is for next Shabbat" as you set aside the candles on a Monday, clear off the dining room table on Thursday afternoon, buy flowers on Friday morning, etc.
- Imagine the week as it is in the Jewish calendar, with Sunday as the first day of the week. The week has a rhythm that builds to a crescendo: Shabbat is the grand finale of the week.
- Whatever the menu, serve Shabbat meals on your nicest dishes. Sit at the table. Serve wine. Use cloth napkins.
- Wear jewelry.
- On Saturday, indulge in a late-afternoon nap.
- Stroll in the park instead of going to the mall. Play Frisbee.
Read for pleasure.
- Save arguments and upsetting conversations for another day. Strive to taste every flavor of peace on Shabbat.
The Zachor Shabbat approach first adds, rather than subtracts from the activities in order to distinguish Shabbat from the rest of the week.
The goal, of course, is both zachor Shabbat and shamor Shabbat. However, you can't run every mile of a race at once. If the path you're on leads toward your destination, don't sweat taking a scenic path.
You can't sprint in a sack race. Remember to follow this path together as a couple (or family), because, as the less-enthusiastic partner is likely to point out, it has a slippery slope. Just know that the incline, while slick, slants upward.
Recently, I posted a comment at my my sister's blog about my transition to keeping Shabbat:
I started keeping shabbat when I got married. Although I enjoyed Shabbat for the first few months, I didn't "get" Shabbat - the feeling of time transformed, the oasis in my schedule, the tangible relaxation after the candles are lit, etc. - until I had to give something up for Shabbat.
It wasn't until after I refused my manager's adamant directive to work on Friday night and Saturday on a very visible project whose deadline had slipped, that I was able to feel Shabbat. I had to defend the integrity of Shabbat's borders before the I could know the value of her contents.
My manager was frustrated and angry with me on Friday afternoon. I was just out of college, and newly observant. This was my first job, and I had been recently promoted from test to design.
I'm a conflict-avoider in the tamest of situations. It wasn't easy.
I came in as soon as Shabbat was over, and worked late into the night. I returned early Sunday morning and continued to debug the problem. I couldn't figure it out. It was very scary. I was sure I was going to be fired.
On Monday, I learned that, had I come in that Shabbat, the problem would not have been solved any sooner. The problem I was supposed to solve wasn't in the software I owned, but in an area of code that belonged to a different department. It was broken in such a way that I would not have been able to detect it from my lab.
My boss was relieved, and enthusiastically thanked me for "working all weekend." I heard him on the phone with the other department's manager later that day, telling him that he (the other department's manager) should thank me for my hours.
That was twenty years ago. I have been reaping the benefits from that weekend, and from every other time that I have had to sacrifice some activity in order to observe Shabbat, ever since. I've found there can always be something so pressing that compromises with Shabbat's boundaries seem the most expedient path.
Just like quitting smoking, just like diet and exercise, just like resisting the snooze button, the long-term rewards are easily obscured by the tyranny of false urgency.
Observing Shabbat has shown me that, while there will always be another software bug, another overdue project, another frustrated manager, another overflowing inbox, another quotidian emergency, there will never be another NOW.
Clearing away time for Shabbat renews this perspective every week. I think I would never have understood this, without my "moment of choice".
I've started collecting links to stories and guides about making the transition to Sabbath observance. I hope to update this list as I find more: (Link recommendations welcome, please!) (The link list below is a collection-in-progress:)
- The Light in the fridge by Eric Simon, at torah.org
- My Name is David Sacks and I am a sitcom writer by David Sacks at olam.org
- In First Person: Shabbat - `This one period of time is set aside just for us'
- Teshuva Journeys category of stories at Beyond Teshuva (not just about Shabbat, but worthwhile for taking on Torah observance in general)
- Shabbat in Vietnam
Other worthwhile stories
- And on the seventh day, our Jewish guinea pig rested by Jon Papernick, who tried out one shabbat in his quest to become "the Perfect Jew"
Other worthwhile guides
- Rabbi Arthur Green’s Ten Commandments of Shabbat is a list from a non-Orthodox rabbi, geared toward non-Orthodox Jews, a guide to adding Shabbat to the week.
|ז זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ.||Exodus Chapter 20:7|
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
|יא שָׁמוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ,ְה' אֱלקַיךָ.||Deuteronomy Chapter 5:11|
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD thy God commanded thee.