This month’s Vogue magazine contains a surprise article: “How to Host a Shabbat Dinner and Why You Should – Even if You Aren’t Celebrating”.
Ariel Feldman introduces Vogue readers to the concept of resting and relaxing on Shabbat. In our hyper-busy, hyper-connected world, she notes, spending some time focusing on what’s important in life and connecting with people face to face is a powerful way to recharge.
She offers five great suggestions for tapping into Shabbat on Friday nights: disconnect from electronics; take a pause to acknowledge the end of the workweek and beginning of the weekend; spend a moment experiencing gratitude; set a beautiful table and savor a delicious meal.
Shabbat offers a chance to transcend the ordinary week and experience life on a different plane. Here are five additional suggestions for enjoying Shabbat and allowing it to transform our lives.
1. Feel gratitude to God
Vogue’s Shabbat article notes that researchers have found that feeling grateful and making lists of things we are thankful for increases happiness. Shabbat is indeed a great chance to experience gratitude for the many blessings we have in our life.
Missing from Vogue’s piece is any mention of to whom we are grateful. Judaism is rooted in recognizing that we each have a powerful, personal connection with the Divine. On Shabbat particularly, we celebrate this relationship, thanking God for the gift of Shabbat and for the gifts we have received throughout the week.
2. Connect with the Jewish Community
People who regularly switch off smartphones and connect with family and friends substantially reduce the likelihood of experiencing depression. Researchers have also found that people who are part of a community are healthier, happier and even live longer. Shabbat is a unique opportunity to connect with our wider Jewish community.
In 1938, my grandmother became a refugee, fleeing her native Vienna and settling in London, where she worked as a servant. Her only time off was Saturday mornings, when she’d go to synagogue and meet with other Jews and afterwards enjoy lunch together. Even though she was not observant, those hours each Shabbat was her time to feel part of the Jewish people, to exchange news, connect and offer support, and feel united with Jews the world over. It as a sensation she never forgot.
3. Connect with the Spirituality of Shabbat
On Shabbat, every Jew is accompanied home by two angels. Before dinner we welcome these holy beings into our home as we sing Shalom Aleichem. Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twersky notes that welcoming angels into our home reminds us of the awesome spiritual potential of Shabbat. It is not merely “a day of rest whereby we recharge our batteries for the work week that is to follow. That would make Shabbat subordinate to the weekdays, and would make work a goal rather than a means.”
Rather Shabbat “is the goal of creation. By abstaining from all weekday activities we have greater opportunity to study, to meditate, to contemplate…” On Shabbat, we can become more like angels, pursuing spiritual goals that all too often get shunted aside during the week.
4. Extend Shabbat into Saturday
Nearly a quarter of American Jews report lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night, even if they don’t engage in other aspects of the holiday. Extending this special quality into Saturday, whether it’s attending synagogue services, enjoying a Shabbat lunch, or experiencing the calm and beauty of a peaceful Shabbat afternoon, is a powerful way of bringing the infusing our day with the special holiness of this day.
5. Prepare for Shabbat
As soon as Shabbat is over on Saturday nights, a friend of mine immediately puts fresh candles into her Shabbat candlesticks, in readiness for the following Friday afternoon. “Shabbat is the center of our week,” she told me. She made sure to include plans and preparations for Shabbat throughout the week, having this special day in mind all week long.