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Re-imagining Shabbat

by Cyd Weissman

Originally published by Ritualwell on July 24, 2020

Phone screen with a green box and the words

When the doors to the world reopen, I wonder, will I run to my next must-do?

In pre-pandemic times, my Shabbat was spent in joyous busyness. On a typical Friday, after work, I’d race to the market, buy salad fixings and select a just right fruity white to bring to the Katz’s for dinner. On Shabbat morning, my husband, Jay, and I would often set up thirty folding chairs in the family room, arrange the kiddush spread in the dining room, put out the prayer books, then open the front door to our havurah, Or Zarua. Tasks, but not toil, made Shabbas different from the rest of week. Welcoming dear friends, good food, meaningful prayer and study. Full confession, Shabbat was never a day of rest.

Now it is.

This Shabbat, Jay and I sat by Cobbs Creek, for two hours. My feet cooled in the running waters as I watched him turn over rocks. He was on the hunt, reviving a boyhood hobby of searching for living treasures in babbling waters. We had discovered the creek, a mile from our house of 36 years, only after Governor Wolf ordered us to shelter in place. Before then, I had merely driven by on the way to my next must-do. Jay’s hunt was not thwarted by lack of practice. I took a picture and sent it to our grandchildren. “Zaidie caught a crayfish.”

Zaidie caught a crayfish.“Zaidie caught a crayfish.”

Now, Shabbat is more in line with the day of menuchah (rest) commanded to us, because God, after six days of creation, rested. I am slowly, and I mean slowly, learning how to rest on Shabbat. By nature, or by habit, I suffer a busy mind, always thinking about and planning what comes next. Shabbat rest is still a practice in the making.

Highlights of pandemic Shabbat include physically distanced visits in our driveway with the Katzes or other friends. Paper cup l’chaims are especially sweet. And like so many, I now have learned to make challah. That six-braided one remains elusive.

Zoom Shabbat minyan has done little for me. I’ve tried it repeatedly. But I find praying or learning via Zoom more work-like than spirit-filled. So for pandemic Shabbat enrichment, I regularly access Reconstructing Judaism’s Virtual Shabbat Box (VSB). Every Thursday, with contactless delivery, the VSB arrives in my inbox. I click to find a variety of ways to engage while sitting on my sofa. Essays, videos, poetry, podcasts are weekly offered in the VSB and a welcomed part of my re-imagined Shabbat experience.

Tailormade for my ever-shrinking attention span are the five-minute meditations. In last week’s VSB, Rabbi Shelia Peltz Weinberg encouraged me to lift my eyes and spirit with the Starlight Practice: “Imagine a star in the sky that is just for you,” she instructed. “Feel the starlight, bringing ease, release the softness to you.” I followed the practice easily, recalling the bowl and the handle of the Big Dipper that I’ve learned to identify on our late Friday night walks. (It helps that Jay is an Eagle Scout).

On the Shabbatot when my inner meter slows enough, I’ll read an essay in the VSB about issues blasting in the headlines. The shift from news screech to thoughtful insight is comforting. Watching the Beit Midrash recordings in the VSB hosted by Adva Chattler is another sofa VSB option. I’ve grown accustomed to Chattler’s encouraging tone, to sit back and “learn a few pieces of Torah from our notable rabbis.”

I do miss the joyous busyness I once knew. And I’ve grown grateful for long walks, crayfish, meditations and bits of Torah while sitting on my sofa. When the doors to the world reopen, I wonder, will I run to my next must-do? Or will my pandemic rituals, that foster true Shabbat rest, endure?

Cyd Weissman is the Vice President for Innovation & Impact at Reconstructing Judaism.

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