The Shabbes Table

Yesterday, I went to an exhibition which I had visited at exactly the same time last year. The exhibition included pairs of Shabbes candles, a realistic Shabbes table, and even a Sefer Torah. As I listened to the recorded brochos and touched the candlesticks, I remembered my thoughts as I had stood before this same table last year.

“I wish this were mine.”

As a Baalas Teshuva, the thought of celebrating Shabbes with my family was unthinkable. A kind of dream which I thought would never become a reality. I was moved almost to tears as I sat at that replica table last year- and remembering this yesterday almost knocked me over.

After a family reconciliation, my other relatives began- or continued- their own Jewish journeys, and Shabbes dinner became a central function of our lives. We laughed, cried, and told stories at the Shabbes table. Sometimes, it’s stressful: I can’t face hosting guests or mediating disputes, and I forget what a blessing the Shabbes table is. It’s not always perfect, but this week, as I light the candles, I’m going to try and remember to thank G-d for this beautiful gift He gave me.

Tu B’Av

Another Tu B’Av has passed, only this year, it wasn’t the happiest day on the calendar. Perhaps it’s not permitted to be sad on such a joyous day, but amidst all the flowers and greetings and statements I’ve heard- some despairing, most smug, all disheartening- I’ve found it hard to smile and rejoice. I’ve dwelt upon the past, and I’ve prayed G-d to help me, but sadness remains.

I know that words hold an immense power, but I’m not sure if it’s superstitious for me to wonder if all those times I swore I’d never want to marry left me in this state. Perhaps my vow not to marry was heard by G-d, and perhaps He has decided to teach me a lesson about my words. Perhaps that’s why I sit here, now, reflecting on 15th Av, and wishing it were my turn to say “Soon by you”.

They say man isn’t supposed to be alone, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say that women aren’t supposed to be, either. One thing I know for sure, is that it hurts to be alone when you were happy just a short while ago.

Gut Shabbes! (Va’eschanan)

Sometimes, my views and actions attract a lot of attention from both my non observant and Chareidi friends. People seem shocked by my “values” and in many cases, they are shocked that a frum woman could believe certain things. “Why do you want to invite such people for Shabbes dinner? I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that,” or “How can you put up with such a person? I couldn’t, and I’m not even frum”. They feel that because I’m Chassidic, I should stick to mixing with other Chassidim, and that I am free to exclude people based on their religion, denomination or orientation.

I’m not your average Chossid. As someone coming from a non observant background, certain parts of my old lifestyle have stayed with me. I might have abandoned secular newspapers, music and films, but my views sometimes differ from those of major Chareidi rabbonim. I come under fire for this a lot, and sometimes, I begin to wonder if what I’m doing is necessary or even right.

Then I read the Hayom Yom today.

“The Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G‑d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G‑d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G‑d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G‑d.”

What I do is second nature to me. Supporting someone- anyone- who is having a hard time, inviting people for a meal, or just giving them a chance to vent their frustrations- I don’t do it because it’s a mitzvah. I do it because I love every Jew- and, yes, every Noahide- who I encounter. We may be Chassidim, but that doesn’t mean we should shut ourselves off from those around us. Because when we fail to love each other, we fail to love G-d.

G-d gave us the precious gift of Shabbes in love. This Shabbes, let’s embody G-dliness. Let’s bring Holiness down to earth. Let’s spread love among our neighbours, without stopping to judge them or think badly of them just because they’re different.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 8:25 PM tonight, and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 9:41 PM. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Shmuel ben Soroh, Chashachana bas Bryna and Shai bas Odeya. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Shabbes! (Devarim)

The name of this week’s Parsha translates as ‘words’. Yesterday, I wrote that the example set by Moshe Rabbenu in the Sedra teaches us about how to use our words carefully and sensitively, and how to rebuke someone in line with Torah law. Today, hours before Shabbes begins, I am reminded of a chiddush I read some time ago.

The Chiddush, which may have been written for Parshas Devarim, was also about the power of words. I remember quite clearly that it stated that when Jews utter the two words “Gut Shabbes” or “Shabbat Shalom”, they spread shalom- peace- and foster unity. It’s extremely special that we can have such an amazing effect by just uttering those two words. This week, let’s all vow to greet someone new and wish them a peaceful Shabbes- whether it’s someone we see on the street, a visitor in shul, or that person we sit behind and don’t know the name of. May we merit to spread peace and love, and hasten the arrival of Moshiach, speedily and in our days iyH!

This week, Shabbes candles should be lit at 8:36 PM in London, and Shabbes ends at 9:56 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Esther bas Malka, Chashachana bas Bryna, and Shai bas Odeya. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Chodesh! (Menachem Av)

Tonight, we enter Menachem Av. The month ahead is almost like a metaphor for the journey of the Jewish people, as we travel from destruction and sorrow on 9th Av, to redemption and happiness on 15th Av- the most joyful day on the Jewish calendar.

Let us not think of this month solely in terms of the Nine Days and the fast of Tisha B’Av. Instead, we must look to the future, to the happiness which follows and to the arrival of Moshiach. There is a Tim and place for mourning- in this case, we mourn the destruction of the Temples- but we cannot live as mourners forever.

Just as we, the Jewish people, have been living in golus, persecuted, attacked, and separated from our homeland, we spend the beginning of the month mourning, separating ourselves from physical pleasures. But just as 15th Av arrives, bringing joy, we too will soon merit to greet Moshiach and see the end of destruction and exile (speedily and in our days, iyH).

May this month come to us and to all of klal Yisroel for good, and may it bring with it parnossoh, hatzlocho, brochos, and, ultimately, simcha.

Gut Shabbes! (Matos-Massei)

Shabbes is supposed to be an oasis in time. It’s 25 hours away from the hustle and bustle of the working week, without the worries of answering your emails, going to work, or even checking social media. But as a Jewish woman, even an unmarried one, I sometimes feel that Shabbes is more work than the rest of the week. Between cleaning the house for Shabbes, cooking a big dinner, inviting and serving guests, and trying desperately to find a cold Shabbes lunch which keeps everyone happy, I sometimes feel that it’s just way too much fuss and bother.

But Shabbes is a gift. And it was only this week that I realised that the biggest mitzvah of Shabbes is to enjoy it and rejoice in it. If Shabbes is spent worrying over the state of the dinner menu or clearing up after guests, it isn’t Shabbes. And so I decided to make changes to my routine; I let someone else help with the Shabbes cooking. I found some time to speak to G-d, and ask him for a wonderful Shabbes, rather than muttering Tehillim half heartedly while cleaning the house. When a relative offered to vacuum the house, I didn’t jump up to do it, and instead I chose to dedicate that half hour to myself. And amidst a number of fallings out and relationship problems, I realised I would be grateful to turn the internet off for 25 hours.

I always feel the need to single handedly make a perfect Shabbes; as a BT in a non observant family, it feels like my responsibility to make sure the house is spotless, the food perfect, and that the guests go home impressed. But maybe it’s not up to me. Maybe it’s up to G-d. Am I an aishes chayil? Perhaps not, but that can wait until after I get married, iyH.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 8:46 PM, and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 10:09 PM. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna, Esther bas Malka and Shai bas Odeya. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Shabbes! (Pinchos)

Yesterday, I wrote about the value and power of women in my dvar Torah for Parshas Pinchos. One of the topics I covered was the mechitza. In retrospect, I feel that I used the wrong words when talking about the screen which separates men and women in prayer. My words suggested that I saw the mechitza as a tool of oppression. A way of hiding woman. An obstacle to equality.

In reality, the opposite is true.

The mechitza is not oppressive or sexist, and indeed I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a shul without one. I have a great deal of experience with shuls of different denominations, and those with mixed seating make me feel uncomfortable. I accept that some women prefer to pray without a mechitza, but halachically, the mechitza is necessary and I appreciate it.

The mechitza I referred to was more a metaphor than anything. A metaphorical mechitza which hides women from public view- not allowing them to speak on their telephones in public, appear in adverts or newspapers, or wear clothes with the slightest hint of colour. Women are disappearing from the Chareidi public view- and this is the fault of a number of rabbis, committees, and vaads, but we can’t blame the mechitza in shul.

Having clarified this, I would like to wish everyone a wonderful Shabbes. In London, Shabbes candles should be lit act 8:54, and Shabbes goes out at 10:20. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chain Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna, Golda Shira bas Yenta Ruchel and Shai bas Odeya for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!