“Rabbi, I’ve decided that I would like to observe Shabbat for the first time in my life. It seems so different from anything I have experienced and I want to give it a try — but I don’t know how to do it. I know that in a few months we will be starting to learn the laws of Shabbat, but I want to try and keep an entire Shabbat correctly this week.
So please, can you tell me everything I need to know to observe this coming Shabbat properly?”
This was the gist of the phone call I received in Krakow from a young woman, Marianna*, who had only been in my class for a few months. Usually I stagger their observance so as not to frighten them with a radical change in lifestyle right at the beginning. I ask the students to try first the positive aspects of Shabbat and then slowly to cover the prohibitions as well, reminding them about the practice of violating one law throughout the entire process until the conversion.
But here, after witnessing all the various parts of our Shabbat in Krakow, Marianna wanted to try it all out. Shabbat in Krakow is very special, it is the focal point of the development of each student in the program. It begins with Shabbat services at the Izaak Synagogue, followed by a festive dinner at the JCC, where old and young join together in great food, conversation and Torah. After dinner I give a lecture in the winter time for two hours, usually on a contemporary relevant topic. In the morning after Davening and Kiddush at Shul we come back to the JCC and study, learn, sing, study, learn, sing…basically until Shabbat ends. We usually include a ‘shabbat spatzer’ (Shabbat walk) in which we stretch our legs and walk through the streets of Krakow. After mincha and seuda shlishit we make havdala.
It truly is all-encompassing and Marianna wanted to do it right just once. I helped her find a place to stay within walking distance of the Jewish community and then wrote her a list of every detail relating to the observance of Shabbat: what’s muktzeh, what prayers, about candles, about Eiruv…I even told her about cutting toilet paper before Shabbat so she would not have to violate any detail on the day.
And so it was. She was beaming the entire day and we shared a remarkable Shabbat together with the entire Jewish community. We prayed, sang, ate, walked, and learned a lot– in English, Hebrew, Polish, Russian and any other language we could use.
All was going great until the end of the day when I noticed Marianna’s face darkened. I couldn’t understand why she was nearing tears on what should have been the most beautiful experience of her life. I went over to her and asked her what happened: did she not feel well? Did she hear some bad news? Why was she so sad?
Her response was precious: “Rabbi, you prepared me for every moment of this amazing gift called Shabbat but you left out one detail. You didn’t tell me how sad I would feel as it comes to an end. I feel like crying…”
I was speechless. What a zechut for me to witness Shabbat through the eyes of Marianna. The pure joy of her experiencing the extra soul of Shabbat was infectious; yet the sadness she emitted when she realized she would have to wait six more days to feel this again…that truly touched my heart.
I told Marianna about Havdalah and the idea that the besamim is there to literally revive us from the sad stupor we fall in to as our extra neshama departs but we both knew that some nice smelling cloves would not solve her mini-crisis of Shabbat’s ebbing away.
The only remedy is the countdown of six more days to Shabbat and the magical feeling that it lies just around the corner. Ever since that first Shabbat Marianna has been hooked. Today she is a proud member of the Jewish people and her Shabbat has never faltered. It still breathes life and spiritual joy into her week, and is a constant in her religious expression. And yes, as the sun sets Marianna still feels a bit down, realizing that the extra soul is departing and the waiting period begins again…