And it was evening and it was morning…. The 28th Day
In Israel our lives as a people are now clearly fractured along the lines of the “before” and the “after” – of October 7th. It insinuates itself into all corners of life.
This Friday, Jews across the world, will mark the fourth Shabbat of the “after”. The rituals surrounding Shabbat and the Friday night meal as dictated by Jewish law and practice will be identical or will appear to be identical to Shabbat practices from the “before” – but do not be deceived by appearances. I will explain.
Jewish law dictates that candles be lit in a specified ritual manner shortly before sunset on Friday night. This lighting is not a custom but an obligation which Jewish law has bestowed specifically upon Jewish women but is incumbent upon every Jewish household even if no women are present. There is a broadly observed custom to light the number of candles that correspond to the number of people in your household. (for more on this click here)
In many homes in Israel and in other Jewish communities abroad the number of candles will never again correspond to the number of people still alive in those homes. In these homes there are no longer mothers or daughters to light these candles. They are gone. Some forever. Others swallowed into the darkness called Gaza. In other homes a father will now light these candles going forward for the wife and children who will never return – or for those currently held in Hamas captivity. In some homes daughters will light in place of their missing mothers, while in other homes now fully erased, there is no one left to light these candles ever again.
But the candles are not the only point of departure from our past lives.
For some of you who have attended a Friday night Shabbat meal, you may have seen the widespread and old custom of blessing the children at the start of the meal. (The practice is the subject of an entire literature beyond the purview of this note.)
In short, you will usually see the parents lay both hands or one hand, on the head or above the head of each child depending on varying customs. The broad custom is that the blessing given is comprised of a specific blessing for boys and another for girls, followed by several biblical verses. (for more on this practice click here)
For many families across Israel, this beautiful weekly moment in their lives will resonate differently. Not only for the afflicted homes of those mentioned above, but for the tens of thousands of other homes that are depleted of fathers, mothers or older children sent by the IDF into the storms at the northern and southern fronts of this tiny country.
No. In many of our homes we cannot lay our hands on their heads … but we will bless them from afar – just as we do every Friday night, using the ancient words of this biblical blessing (Numbers 6:22):
May G-d bless you
and protect you.
May G-d shine his countenance upon you
and be gracious to you.
May G-d turn his countenance to you
And grant you peace.