Gut Shabbes! (Tazria-Metzora)

This week, we read about the punishment for loshon hora in the Parsha. Various commentators have written about the importance of this lesson, reminding us that our words can shape other’s emotions and even their destinies. We should always be careful with what we say- about ourselves as well as others. This topic reminds me of when I first became interested in keeping Shabbes. Although, undoubtably, it was the presence of a Shul and a wonderful community which made me look forwards to the day, my own perception of Shabbes- and the way I talked about it- was almost as important.

Rather than bemoaning the day without electronics, shopping or writing, I instead made an effort to tell others of the beauty of Shabbes- even though I admitted I was struggling to keep it. Through both honesty and positivity, I found that Shabbes turned into what I wanted it to be, and I’m thankful to say that to this day, it remains the highlight of my week.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 8:01 PM, and Shabbes ends tomorrow evening at 9:18 PM. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Yaakov ben Avraham, Moshe ben Genya and Chashachana bas Bryna. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Shabbes! (Shemini)

In my dvar Torah for Parshas Shemini, I wrote about the importance of Kashrus. Its purpose,  I wrote, is to elevate the mundane- namely food- into something Holy- a way of serving G-d. And today it occured to me that the very same ‘elevation’ applies to Shabbes.  Before I became observant, Saturday was just another day. I enjoyed it in the sense that it was a day off, but it was actually no different to Sunday or any holiday.

Shabbes changed all that.

It’s no longer just another day. It’s the day I dream about. The day I love and cherish. And, in particularly hard times, it’s the day I live for. I hope that this Shabbes brings you all peace, comfort and light, and truly elevates the end of your week into something special and Holy.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 7:49 PM and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 9:04 PM. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya and Chashachana bas Bryna for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

A World Without Music

During the Omer mourning period, we do not listen to music. It is one of many customs which reflect our sorrow surrounding the deaths of Rabbi Akiva ‘s 24,000 disciples. Although this is the first day without music, I already feel markedly different. The air is heavier, my mind quieter, my thoughts more somber. It’s as if someone has flicked a switch and plunged us into silence and darkness.

I think it’s fitting.

I recall the Omer period last year, when everything was so different. I didn’t listen to music much then- not as much as I have done recently- and I didn’t stop for the days of the Omer. I was newly observant, and still acclimatising. As far as my memory is concerned, there was no mourning period. I want this year to be different.

I’ll miss the melodies and harmonies as I click the keys; the musical accompaniment to my writing, and the songs which touch my soul. But in some strange way, I like it. It feels appropriate, cleansing, even, and I know that though I might struggle through this time, Hashem is with me, even after the music has stopped.

My Exodus

A two day yontiff means a lot of things.

It means trips to shul- walks in the freezing cold, waiting to be embraced by the warmth of the synagogue, the holiness, the harmonies. It means meals. Endless meals, endless preparation, piles of dry, crisp matzah, mountains of green salad needing soaking, plates of coconut macaroons.

And it means a lot of time for thinking.

I think about what I’m going to write after the yontiff ends. I know I shouldn’t be thinking about that. Yet I can’t help but worrying; what if I run out of ideas? So I think, and plan, though I don’t write. But I nonetheless find the break much needed; rejuvenating, even. Have I turned into an old person? Unable to muster the energy to continue my daily activities? No. I just appreciate a holiday. I wince as I realise I don’t actually have energy anymore. I’m not old. Just wary and tired and busy.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a little bored on the yontiff. No shopping, no telephone calls, no messages. No signs of life. Shul deals with this. I immerse myself in prayers, in the company, in the latticework of the mechitza and the swirls of the Pesach tablecloth. A home from home.

Back home- or perhaps before shul- I sat on the white paisley duvet and tears sprang to my eyes and ran down my cheeks. I needed to be sick. I blinked away tears and sickness and frowned because I didn’t realise why I was crying. For once in my life I wasn’t sad. Not especially. I was, actually, ok.

I never thought I’d be ok.

Amidst the worries and heartbreak and sickness and sorrow, I’m ok.

Because of the yontiff? In spite of the yontiff? I don’t know. But this year, that was my own personal exodus. To sit there, with tears on my cheeks, and realise that despite it all, I was ok. I wanted to be ok, so I would be. And for some short time, I was. More things came after that. Loneliness and shock and despair. And I wasn’t ok. But I knew that if I worked on it, I could be ok. I could take control. I could make it better.

And that’s what I’m trying to do.

The Splitting of the Sea

Tonight, we stay up all night to study Torah and re-enact the splitting of the sea. After hours of study, we spill water on the floor and dance around it, rejoicing as the Israelites did after their exodus from Mitzrayim.

What a beautiful and powerful custom, and what an amazing metaphor.

Pesach is all about freedom. The exodus from Mitzrayim has many parallels in our own lives, and the splitting of the sea is especially powerful. It represents a miraculous path through our own troubles- the sort of path which appears at a moment when you are lost and hopeless and surrounded by despair. It’s a miracle.

This year, mat we all merit to have our own ‘splitting of the sea’.

In London, the yontiff starts tonight at 7:41 PM, which is when candles should be lit. On Monday candles should be lit after 8:55 PM, and the yontiff ends at 8:57 PM on Tuesday. When lighting your candles, please remember Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, and Chashachana bas Bryna.

Gut yontiff!

Gut Shabbes! (Chol HaMoed)

Many of us are feeling on edge. We began the week with cleaning; moved onto Seyder prep; celebrated a two day yontiff;  and then, in all likelihood, forked out an eye watering amount of money on a Chol HaMoed trip. The house is messy already, all the food is unleavened, and you’re exhausted.

Enter the Shabbes Malkah.

We all know how stressful holidays can be, though they are wonderful, and on a yontiff, we spend more time cooking than we do resting. Shabbes is a chance to rejuvinate. Let’s hope that we can all delight in it this week!

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 7:38 PM, and Shabbes goes out at 8:51 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Ghenya and Chashachana bas Bryna. Thank you and gut Shabbes!

Freilichen Peysekh!

Tonight, we begin the festival of Peysekh, in which we commemorate the exodus from Mitzrayim and our subsequent freedom by holding two Seyderim- special meals at which we read the Haggadah- and by ridding our homes of chometz (leaven). From tonight until Wednesday night we celebrate two days yontiff (in which the laws of Shabbes apply with some small exceptions regarding cooking- consult Chabad.org for full details!), and next Monday night through Wednesday night is also a yontiff. I won’t be updating the website on these days, but it is likely that I will be writing on chol hamoed- the intermediary days.

In London, Yontiff candles should be lit tonight at 7:31 PM, and tomorrow (from a pre-existent flame!) at 8:43 PM. The yontiff ends at 8:45 PM on Wednesday. Remember to recite Shehecheyanu, and if you can, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor Ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, aand Chashachana bas Bryna for a refuah shleimah!

I would like to wish all my readers, friends and family a freilichen and Kosher Peysekh. I hope that you find the festival both enjoyable and liberating. Gut Yontiff!