Love is one of my favorite topics. If I’m ever asked to write or talk about anything, somehow love slips into the topic. I mean, doesn’t “love lift us up where we belong?” The next topic, which honestly is the core to the first topic, would be that of God.
One of the most beautiful things about God was his first gift to the world. Yes, God, the eternal one, created everything: the stars we gaze at, the dirt we walk upon. But these were not his first gift to us. Not even breathing life into us was his first gift. He created these things, he was pleased with himself. At that point, when he saw and was happy, he realized how much work he had done – and he created the seventh day, a day of rest for all time, for all beings.
There have been many debates on what day of the week the seventh day should be. Is it Saturday, is it Sunday? Whatever you chose to believe – it is the Sabbath, also known as Shabbat – a weekly holiday to separate the mundane from the holy.
To begin this weekly holiday, you could light candles right before sun down, say a blessing over wine/juice and over the Jewish egg-bread known as challah. Another way to celebrate is to attend a Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service. If that made you think of Kabbalah, you’re mind is definitely going in the right direction. This service is one full of mysticism, and the hymn that is eagerly awaited each Friday night is that of “Lecha Dodi” which translates to “Come My Beloved.”
In this hymn, the service attendees sing with such vigor that also awakens beautiful imagery throughout the lyrics. The song speaks of Shabbat as a bride with God has her bridegroom. We stand in a beautiful sanctuary, outside in the woods or in a small room with nothing on the walls and sing as one: we sing this song to the Shabbat bride to come and be with God in this holy place in time.
There are times when I’m singing this song, that I actually begin to cry. Imagine yourself in a beautiful sanctuary of golds and blues, with a Byzantine/Moorish style: You are standing at your pew, looking towards the ark of the covenant, prayer book in hand (however you don’t need it because the words are memorized in your mind), and you sing with hundreds of others.
The clergy stand, singing and smiling, looking at the back door. You get to the last verse, you slowly turn towards the back door, and sing “Enter in peace, O crown of your husband: enter in gladness, enter in joy. Come to the people that keeps its faith. Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride!” The Shabbat bride has finally arrived.
The 25 hours of Shabbat, which begins sundown on Friday to one hour past sundown on Saturday, is similar to that of a wedding. There is such anticipation at the end of the week, such excitement. You prepare yourself and you leave everything else behind. Nothing else matters except that of the bride and groom, and their happiness.
Your attendance is warmly welcomed, you are there to stand and witness a love the surpasses understanding, a love that brings peace and comfort. The love of Shabbat and God bring us these things, and as at any wedding, it makes you reflect on yourself: am I who I want to be, am I with the right people/person, how do I find such happiness and peace? Or maybe you are content with your life, and you grab your person’s hand and are filled with such immense happiness and you reflect on all the good things you have.
Shabbat is a time of rest, it’s also a time to reflect, and re-center ourselves. For each person, this will look differently. For some, it’s finding a time and space to do all the things you didn’t get to do in the week: grocery shopping with a sense of mindfulness, spending time with loved ones on a picnic, studying God’s word, or laying in bed with a good book.
Shabbat can be whatever you want it to be – just “remember” and “keep” it a day in which you honor God’s first gift to us to rest, reflect, and re-balance yourself before the craziness of the week begins again.
On this Shabbat, I wish you peace. I wish you a time, during this pandemic, to re-center yourself and find a sense of renewal. For me, I do this through listening to music, so take a moment to listen to this beautiful version of Lecha Dodi, put to the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” You can also find the text of “Lecha Dodi” here, in the original Hebrew, alongside transliteration and the English translations.