Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Sara Gutfreund


Avrohom Ovinu, by passing his Ten Trials, bequeathed to his descendants the spiritual DNA to withstand their own individual tests . . .

I walked out of his office into the crisp fall air, and I felt my life on the edge of change. I had made a decision.

I grew up in a home that was rapidly assimilating into American society. My father is a brilliant cardiologist, and my mother is the vice president of a large public relations firm. Despite their busy careers, they were warm and involved parents. They wanted me to be a happy and accomplished individual, and they sent me to the best of schools with that in mind. Our Judaism was a Saturday ritual. We would all dress up and go to the local Modern Orthodox shul where we would pray and meet up with our friends.

There were two traditions that my parents insisting on keeping, though. One was Shabbos, with all its seemingly outdated rules. And the other was not eating non-kosher meat or fish. Needless to say, these rules were very confusing for a girl growing up in secular American society. I wanted to go out with my friends on Friday night, and I was embarrassed that I couldn't even turn on and off the lights when my friends would visit on Saturday afternoon. Nevertheless, I trusted my parents and wanted to make them happy. So when my mother lit the silver candles on Friday night and my father went to shul, we sat and read together and accepted Shabbos as something peculiar about my family.

The kosher rule didn't affect me much since I could still eat in all the same restaurants as my friends and order vegetarian dishes. A lot of my friends had even become vegetarian by then, and I didn't even stick out of the crowd. As I progressed through my high school years, I began to appreciate the deep rest and peace that Shabbos gave me from my intense academic studies. In fact, I began to see that my family was unique even in sitting down to dinner once a week! I had begun at that time to excel in the sciences, and in my senior year I was accepted to an elite university with a sterling reputation.

In university, I was placed with a Catholic roommate who was also a science major. I explained to her about Shabbos, and how I would have to put my light on a timer. I told her that I would light candles every Friday night, and I asked her to please remember not to turn my light off. She looked at me a bit strangely during these explanations, but she seemed happy enough to accommodate me. At night she would say, "Now I lay me down to sleep," and I would say the first paragraph of the Shema that I had so often heard my grandmother recite before bed. It comforted me and made me feel connected to our tradition in the spiritual desert of university.

The university had a Hillel House which organized Shabbos meals, and I attended them regularly. Shabbos had become an opportunity for self-reflection and letting go, in my increasingly competitive environment. When I lit candles on Friday night I felt connected to my mother and grandmother in a way that I never had before.

When the turning point in my life came, it caught me by surprise. I had always perceived myself as a rational, stable person and suddenly, I couldn't integrate the two "faces" of my life anymore. It happened so gradually that at first I didn't realize it was happening. I was a chemistry major, and the highlight of the year was the Chemistry Award for the most ingenious experiment. I worked hard for months devising my experiment, and eliminating any inconsistencies in my work. Finally, the time came to present our experiments to the board of professors. We each presented our work, and the professors spent hours deliberating over the winning project.

The next day they announced the winner. When they called my name I was ecstatic. I had worked so hard, and now I was reaping the reward. However, when they announced the date of the award ceremony, my face fell. It was on Shabbos.

I didn't say anything, and I smiled as all my friends congratulated me. When I returned to my dorm room, I stared out the window at the autumn leaves falling from the courtyard trees and I thought about my dilemma. How would I succeed in a world that has no Shabbos? Another voice inside me said: Maybe just this one time you'll ride on Shabbos and speak into a microphone. And then next Shabbos, you can go back to observing it. But as soon as the voice rose, I quieted it immediately. I knew that I couldn't do that. I knew what I had to do.

When I walked into the professor's office and told him that I wouldn't be able to attend the awards ceremony, he looked at me in shock. And when I told him that I couldn't attend because it was my Sabbath, he looked almost angry. He said that the ceremony was a prestigious university tradition and "my" Sabbath could wait. I repeated that I couldn't attend. He looked at me with uncomprehending eyes and said: "Well, we will have to give the award to someone else, then."

I walked out of his office into the crisp fall air, and I felt my life on the edge of change. I had made a decision. I had declared my loyalty. I began to study Torah with a fellow student from the Hillel. Eventually, I married, and we began to keep all of the halochos. Today my husband learns in kollel, and our children know the beauty of a Shabbos full of Torah.

I kept the Shabbos, and the Shabbos kept me.


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