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.

Is This Freedom?

“Don’t make Purim so Sameach that it’s not Kosher, and don’t make Peysekh so Kosher that it’s not Sameach”

I keep seeing this quote from the Bostoner Rebbetzen repeated beneath complaints about the stress of Peysekh preparation, and on numerous chizuk pages. At first, I dismissed it as being just like the famous tznius guideline “Be attractive, not attracting”- in other words, catchy but absolutely useless. But as Peysekh drew closer and I became overwhelmed by the preparations, it began to finally resonate with me.

We’re meant to be celebrating freedom, and we can’t do that by enslaving ourselves.

Just as Pharaoh enslaved us as prisoners in Mitzrayim, we are often our own slave drivers. Between negative thoughts about Peysekh, worries about the yontiff and Seyder, and above all, the hard physical labour preparing for the holiday, we find ourselves miserable and anxious when we should be rejoicing. It seems as if we have collectively forgotten to delight in the holiday.

This can’t be the true meaning of freedom. So this year, I’m trying my utmost to follow the words of the Bostoner Rebbetzen. May we all merit to enjoy a Peysekh which is truly “freilichen” as well as Kosher!

The Queen

This has been one difficult week.

As I write this, I’m thinking of at least three different things I need to do in the next half hour, and as far as the past few days are concerned, that’s relatively quiet. It’s been a week of working and stressing and mourning and- above all- waiting. Waiting for Shabbes. Don’t get me wrong. I eagerly await the arrival of the Shabbes malkah every single week. But this week, I’m not just eager or excited. Rrather, my neshomo is crying out for the Shabbes queen. My whole being depends on her. It’s a strange feeling, for sure, but for me, it sums up being Jewish.

And so, I’m off to complete a myriad tasks, things which I should have done earlier, things I still need to do, things which can maybe wait. And as I do these things, I will be kept going, by visions of the Shabbes Malkah…

Practical Tefillah

Days like this make me really appreciate tefillah.

Days when tasks are piling up around me, preperations aren’t being made, and every possible thing is going wrong. When no matter how hard I try, I end up worse off than I was before, and no amount of lists or timetables can do anything to help. It’s hard, for sure; I need to make yontiff preperations- but haven’t. I need to finish a project- but can’t. I need to find a recipe- but it doesn’t exist. Before I spiral off into despair, I remember G-d. I remember that He is listening. And so I turn to him and pour my heart out…

Before I know it, I’ve dealt with those projects. One of them is completed, and the other doesn’t look so scary after all. Believe it or not, it’s all turned out ok. The ironing will get done. The food for the seyder will be ordered. And miraculously, a friend supplies me with a recipe which doesn’t contain meat, milk, kitniyos, or gebrokts. It’s like the splitting of the sea all over again.

It seems fitting that we experience these things around Peysekh. Next time this happens, I’m going to remember today, and pick up my siddur…