I’ve always, in one way or another, struggled with Shabbes.
For a short period, around when I started to become observant, I had no kehillas, no longer feeling comofortable in Reform Judaism, but not feeling ready to join an orthodox congregation. During this time- which, in my mind, feels a lot longer than it probably actually was- I am ashamed to say I hated Shabbes. I felt stranded, cut off from the rest of the world, for those 25 hours. I was already fairly isolated and Shabbes made this even more bleak. I had no shul, couldn’t speak to online friends, or ring others, and I had no chores or shopping to take my mind off it.
As I cycled through different shuls, Shabbes became exciting again. It was exciting, nerve wracking even, as I readied myself to spend the best part of the morning in an orthodox synagogue, sometimes a different one, sometimes my favourite. I didn’t really feel as if I belonged. I wasn’t that observant outside of shul. I wore trousers (even though I didn’t want to), I didnt say brochos, and I wasn’t strict about hescherim. I also didn’t keep Shabbes. I felt a bit like an impostor, but time rolled on and eventually I found my perfect congregation.
Suddenly, I wanted to keep Shabbes. What’s more, I relished in it. I lived for Shabbes. For a long time, I hated my Monday to Friday working life and cared only about Shabbes morning in shul and the blissful afternoon which followed as I basked in the glow of the Holy day. Those days were far from ideal. My weeks were difficult and my family weren’t approving of this new lifestyle. But I had Shabbes. So long as I had Shabbes, I was going to be okay. And I was. But as my family began to become observant, I discovered something I thought I would never have. The joy of a Friday night by family.
Candlesticks, chollah, laughter- it was all new to me. And it turned Shabbes into a day. A full day. It was no longer the 3 hours in shul. It was a whole day of joy, preceded by a blissful evening. I had no desire to go to my family’s shul, but rather, my experience at the chabad house was enriched. And this week, as I recall the misery I felt just a few months ago, I realise that I have truly found something worth holding onto.
The paradise in time.