Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Nissan 5763 - April 30, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Waiting for Shabbos
a story by Devora Halpern

This is Shabbos? Adi whispered, gazing at the moonlit scene in wonder.

Of course, Adi knew what Shabbos was; she'd been keeping Shabbossim for more than a year before she'd decided to study in Yerusholayim. She liked the regular routine of the day, the familiar foods and special songs.

But here on the streets of Yerusholayim, she saw something that didn't fit into her conceptions of the predictable and expected.

She saw people who seemed to be part of Shabbos itself.

As she followed Bobbie, her South African dorm mate, to their host family for the Friday night meal, Adi was transfixed by the magical scene unfolding before her eyes. Women and children splashed color and chatter up and down the winding street. Teenagers strolled seven and eight abreast, chatting and pushing baby carriages. Mothers huddled on sidewalk benches, keeping an eye on their toddlers playing in the street. There were no cars, buses, traffic noise or anything else, for that matter. This was unlike any Shabbos Adi had ever experienced.

She was captivated. The next Friday night, Adi rushed out to the darkening street to again witness the easygoing parade of adults and children. Here she could put her finger on the Shabbos in a way that she could never do back home.

And yet... what was she missing? Adi felt like an outsider. She only watched the scene; she couldn't recreate the feelings in her own heart. When the siren rang to signal the time for candlelighting, she hurriedly lit her candles and felt the total cessation of work hit her with a thud. Why did everyone else come out so relaxed and radiant?

Of course, her teachers would know. Adi waited for her chumash rabbi after class one day and asked the question that burned in her mind all week, "How do you feel Shabbos?"

Rabbi Winkler, a sprightly man with wire-rimmed eyeglasses and a ready smile, answered her question with a question: "How do you see? With your eyes. How do you hear? With your ears. How do you taste? With your tongue. And how do you experience kedusha? With your neshoma. Hashem gave us five senses to experience the physical world. Your neshoma, your `sixth sense,' will help you experience the world of the spirit, which is Shabbos."

Adi liked his answer; it fit in with all the other new ideas she was learning at the seminary. But the next Shabbos, she didn't know exactly how to apply it. In frustration, she watched, without feeling the elusive aura that wove an invisible net around the other women and children. What was their secret?

"What is Shabbos?" she asked Rebbetzin Ornstein, who taught Jewish philosophy on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

"Ah, Shabbos," the rebbetzin replied with a twinkle in her eye. "Shabbos is the day we build our personal relationship with Hashem. The whole week we're busy with so many other details, but on Shabbos we put all that behind us. All the halochos of the day help us to relax so we can spend lots of time with Hashem and with ourselves."

Adi liked that explanation also, but her teacher's words fell short on Shabbos, too. Somehow, everyone else knew how to link the familiar routines of the day with its intangible kedusha. What was the key?

Her dorm mates noticed her quandary. "Is something bothering you, Adi?" Bobbie asked when the girls gathered for a late night chat.

Adi sighed. "It's Shabbos," she said. "How am I ever going to feel it as well as keep it?"

Her friends nodded sympathetically. "I wish I could help you, but I don't know enough yet to give you the right answer," Ellen said.

"You know who might be able to understand where you're coming from?" Lisa suggested. "Mrs. Chapman. She's my novi tutor, but we often spend time talking about other things, too. I've learned a lot from her."

"Mrs. Chapman?" Bobbie exclaimed. "She doesn't even have children yet, though I heard she lights a whole house full of Shabbos candles. How could she understand what Adi's looking for?"

Adi glanced at Lisa. "Ask her," Lisa encouraged. "Maybe she'll have the answer you're looking for."


When Adi asked her, Mrs. Chapman looked thoughtful, and then pleased. "Why don't you come by my apartment at ten o'clock Friday morning?" she suggested. "We can talk then." As the clock chimed the tenth hour, Adi was ushered into the bright, white foyer of Mrs. Chapman's apartment. She curiously eyed her surroundings. The foyer, wallpapered with a pale rose- and-trellis pattern, was immaculately clean. A corner table draped with a white lace doily artfully displayed small pictures in gilt frames. Through a doorway, Adi spied the dining room, its table neatly spread with a white tablecloth and sparkling tableware. A shelf jutting out from behind the door held an array of silver candlesticks. Adi remembered what Bobbie had said about Mrs. Chapman's many candles. She coughed nervously.

"Come, let's sit in my kitchen," the tutor said pleasantly. "The day is short and there's still much to do. I'll work while we talk."

It looked like everything was already done, but Adi politely refrained from saying so as she followed Mrs. Chapman into the kitchen and took a seat at the table by the window. Compared to the spaciousness of the foyer and dining room, the kitchen reminded her of a walk-in closet. A short strip of countertop topped by cream-colored formica cabinets shone with cleanliness and order.

"So what would you like to talk about?" Mrs. Chapman asked as she began to peel potatoes into a large pot.

Adi cleared her throat and looked out the window. "Well, you know, I'm having a hard time relating to Shabbos," she began. She glanced sideways at Mrs. Chapman to gauge her reaction.

Mrs. Chapman's placid expression didn't waver. "In what way?" she asked, with the same inflection one might phrase the question, "Would you like something to eat?"

Adi gathered her courage and continued, "I know all the halochos and all the things you have to do on Shabbos," she explained. "I light candles and eat the meals and bring gifts to the families who host me. But I don't feel anything. I feel as if everyone around me knows something I don't. Even the little children look so happy and content. What am I missing?'

Mrs. Chapman was silent. Adi clenched her teeth and stared out the window, despairing of getting the answer from this teacher, either.

"Let's imagine that you're expecting a visit from a very important person," Mrs. Chapman began in a thoughtful tone. "You're British, right? Let's say the Queen of England sends you a message that she's coming to visit your home at six o'clock this evening."

Adi wondered where this was leading.

"Would you wait for the last minute to prepare for her visit?" the tutor asked. "Would you wait until you heard her and her entourage knocking at your door to realize, `Oh, no, the supper's not cooked! The house isn't clean! I'm not ready yet!'

"Or would you," she continued, not waiting for an answer, "prepare for the Queen's visit hours in advance? Early in the morning you'd prepare the food, polish the silverware and set the table. At six o'clock, when you saw her coming up the drive, you'd be relaxed, confident in the knowledge that you were all ready to greet her in the way she deserves."

Adi kept staring out the window at the apartment-lined street snaking up the hill toward Mrs. Chapman's apartment. The sunlight brightened and she winced at the glare from a golden coach that appeared to wind its way between the tall buildings. Horses and cavalrymen appeared out of nowhere to escort the glittering coach in front and in back. It's the Queen!" Adi thought involuntarily.

"The Queen is Shabbos," Mrs. Chapman was saying. "We don't just keep Shabbos, we prepare for her. Come, let me show you what I do to prepare for her."

She stood up. Adi jumped out of her chair, the image of the glittering coach still vivid in her mind's eye. Mrs. Chapman pointed out her shelf full of candles and other candlesticks that she had placed around the room. She said something about bringing lots of light into the world to welcome the Shabbos Queen. Adi listened politely but her thoughts were miles away.

When she'd thanked Mrs. Chapman and left her sunny apartment, Adi was infused with new purpose. It didn't occur to her that most of what the tutor had said didn't really apply to her. She didn't have an apartment of her own to clean, nor a kitchen to cook in, nor children to ready for Shabbos. But the tutor's words had given her a concrete plan of action.

Adi planned the rest of her day as carefully as any housewife would. After lunch, she took her Shabbos clothes out of the metal closet in her dorm room and laid them neatly across her bed. She buffed her Shabbos shoes until they shone and placed them under the bed. She stood in front of the rough wooden shelf pegged over her desk and rearranged her few books and knick- knacks, giving center stage to the silver-plated candleholders she'd bought in the Old City. Then she showered before any of the other girls came in, dressed and began to wait.

At first, she stood by her window, looking out onto the courtyard. Then she leaned against the windowsill and contemplated the simple furnishings of her dorm room. Finally, she sat down on her bed, hands clasped, gazing at the open doorway. Every so often, one of her dorm mates raced past, hurrying to be on time for Shabbos.

A siren sounded, giving ten minutes' notice before candlelighting time. The signal elicited a flurry of activity in the apartment. Adi continued to wait patiently, her eyes fixed on the doorway.

She felt a strange sense of calm when, upon hearing the second siren signal the time for candlelighting, she rose, lit her candles, covered her eyes and said the blessing. Then she sat down again on her bed, her face turned expectantly toward the open door.

No one entered.

Her body remained composed, but inside, Adi felt tense as a coiled spring. She waited and waited, and still, no one entered. Of course she didn't expect the Queen of England to walk in, but she awaited someone. The Shabbos Queen, of course. Where was she?

Five minutes passed.

Ten minutes passed.

Adi felt the loosely-knit strands of hope that Mrs. Chapman had woven around her that morning begin to slip away. Would she ever understand what Shabbos was all about?

The open doorway gaped as empty as ever.

And then it struck her. Something had entered. It already filled every corner of her room and enveloped her in its soft, comforting embrace. All the worries and concerns of the week were fading into nothingness before this pervasive, all-encompassing presence. Adi allowed herself to sink into its lush folds and realized that everything she would do for the next twenty-four hours would effortlessly blend into this exquisite aura.

This is Shabbos, Adi whispered in amazement.

Shabbos is Peace.


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