Snowed In and Shabbat

Do you remember being a child and the feeling of waking up in the morning to discover that school was closed and being “gifted” a snow day?  An unscheduled release from the routine and especially the chance to play outside until your fingers froze through your gloves rather than be sitting inside working at school.

Snow days and Shabbat have a great deal in common. Both are special, “out of the norm,” both give us special things to do, both have things we cannot do, both have increased value in contrast to the everyday norms of our life, both are temporary, both have the possibility of different types of family time, and often both are times of joy, and yet there may be an aspect of Shabbat for some that, like too many snow days, feels confining rather than refreshing.

The recent snowstorm gave us several snow days and plenty of time to consider work, family, community, life balance, and most especially time itself because it changed from a “get-to-have-a-snow-day” to “stuck-in-the-house-day.” For those who teleworked, the boundaries between home and work became even blurrier than they usually are and work seemed unending, making it more difficult to en-joy being home with kids and spouses. On the other hand, it was often the technology that kept some entertained and sane as the time snowed-in continued on and on.

Which actually brings me to how to create meaningful, authentic Shabbat experiences for ourselves – A Shabbat that refreshes, relaxes, nourishes our souls, reconnects us with family as “beings” not as “doers” or “tasks,” gives us time to reflect and rebalance our priorities, a day to let go of the stress that may have built up during the week, a day that feels very different from the everyday.

For these purposes, an authentic Shabbat needs to reflect what it is we want Shabbat to be at this time. It may also be that not every Shabbat needs to have the same experiences. It may be that over time our Shabbat changes. So how does one begin to choose what to do or not do from the array of possibilities? This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18), includes the phrase “N’aseh v’nishmah” which is sometimes translated as “we will do and we will understand.” Doing and understanding was the core of John Dewey’s educational philosophy of hands-on and experiential learning, still being espoused by many today. It can be the same with Shabbat, it is by experiencing Shabbat that we can best understand the gift of Shabbat each week.

Marie Kondo, the de-cluttering guru, advises that the question to ask when contemplating our material stuff and whether to keep it or not is, “Does it spark joy?” This is a terrific question to be applied when looking at our activities and designing Shabbat. What could you do that would bring you and/or your family joy? Is it possible to only do that on Shabbat so that it becomes a special Shabbat experience? Do you love chocolate? En-joy some on Shabbat. Do you love pizza? En-joy some on Shabbat. The trick is to not have these things on other days so that Shabbat is full of anticipation and different. Do you resent the omni-presence of your cell phone? En-joy taking a break from it on Shabbat (for as long as you want – an evening, a morning, etc). Are there baskets of laundry waiting to be washed or put away? Prepare for Shabbat by getting it out of the way so that you can en-joy relaxing without guilt.

How can your engage all five of your senses in cuing you for Shabbat? What would make your house look like it is Shabbat? Is there a special tablecloth that could be the Shabbat tablecloth? A special center piece for the table or the entryway? A Shabbat Shalom banner that is hung up for Shabbat? What about getting flowers for Shabbat for the centerpiece and the fragrance? What would make your house smell like it is Shabbat? Does it smell like cinnamon and cloves? The smell of challah is a wonderful smell that can be achieved with frozen challah dough, not just making challah from scratch. If week after week, the house smells like baked challah, your nose and the rest of you will be primed for Shabbat.  Smell and taste are closely linked, what taste would make Shabbat special for you? Is it chocolate, challah, wine, risotto, lox and everything bagels? What does Shabbat sound like in your house? Is it the sound of laughter, of singing, of your favorite music, or the sound of book pages turning? How can you bring those sounds into your Shabbat experience? Is this the time to reconnect with family and friends and share a meal or a walk or tea? And what does the special touch of Shabbat feel like? Is it hugs and kisses? Is it the feeling of fresh air on skin?

I have left the religious and spiritual aspects of Shabbat for another week. It is not that they aren’t important, rather that they deserve sufficient space for exploration.

The tradition has Shabbat last for 25 hours each week, during that time there are so many different things that occur that planning for this 25 hour weekly occurrence can be as exciting as planning a vacation, yet it happens 52 times each year. What are they things you do or want to do on Shabbat to refresh your soul?

JoHanna Potts