Jewish Spirituality shabbat

A Peaceful Shabbat

This Shabbat, I have very little planned. I’m looking forward to a lot of rest, maybe  a little knitting, maybe a little reading, maybe a little gardening. But mainly rest.

Eva and I will both be home this evening, which doesn’t happen all that often. So it will be a quiet evening together. Yay! We might light shabbat candles and say kiddush, or we might simply luxuriate in the fact that it is shabbat, recognizing it by doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is a spiritual practice.

Tomorrow morning I will get up at some point, and wake up slowly. Make some tea or coffee. Sit with a cat and read. Maybe knit. But there’s nothing that needs to get done tomorrow. That’s the beauty of Shabbat.

I’ve commented on this before, but I love the fact that there are multiple ways of spending shabbat: I can lead services, I can attend services or I can do nothing. And all are traditional observances of shabbat.

The text from the Torah which is used as the “proof text” of shabbat* concludes with the line, “and on the seventh day, God rested and was refreshed.” But the word we translate as “refreshed,” vayinafash, comes from the root nafash meaning “soul” or “spirit.” So vayinafash might be better understood as “was re-souled.” And part of what I love is that shabbat is when we are “re-souled”, our soul is returned to us, or restored. Whether the image is understood as being like the sole of our shoes which are worn away over the course of the week, or like a work of art which is covered by grime and the accumulated dust over the week and is then restored, Shabbat serves as the element which allows our soul to start the new week fresh.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.

*The VeShamru which is included in the Friday evening service, the Saturday morning service and is said as part of the kiddush before lunch on Saturday.

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An Odd Shabbat Service

Tomorrow morning, I will be leading an odd (one might even say queer) shabbat service. It is for the Transforming Faith: Divining Gender conference, which deals with transgender issues from a positive faith perspective. Now, what makes this an odd experience for me is not any of the gender/transgender issues, that’s pretty comfortable for me. What makes it odd is that I’ll be leading a shabbat service for a congregation of about 100, of whom I may be the only Jew.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying how to lead Jewish prayer, thinking about how to lead Jewish prayer and actually leading Jewish prayer in a variety circumstances. However, it is only very rarely that I’ve been dealing with a primarily non-Jewish congregation. Even rarer, this is a circumstance where they have chosen to do “multi-faith” prayer rather than “inter-faith” prayer.

“Inter-faith” prayer is when you get a bunch of religions together, and they construct a service they can all live with, which isn’t really representative of any one religious tradition, but isn’t objectionable to any religious tradition (ideally). They tend to be a bit on the bland side, and often a little uncomfortable as some member of the clergy goes on autopilot and and invokes the blessing of Jesus Christ our savior (“well of course you’re Jewish, that doesn’t mean you don’t believe in Christ, does it?”). I can and do participate in these gatherings because they are important, but tend not to find them particularly satisfying.

“Multi-faith”, on the other hand, is where each faith takes one service, and lead a service which is deliberately particularistic to that faith. So I am leading the Saturday morning service as a Shabbat service (more or less). A Muslim leader is leading the Friday morning service. There are some Christian services, etc. My goal here is to present an authentic Jewish prayer experience which is accessible and meaningful to a non-Jewish congregation.

Often, much of Jewish prayer takes place in Hebrew. It’s hard to create a participatory prayer experience when only the leader has any famiarity with the language being used (note: the Catholic Church, when seeking to make the mass more accessible started using the vernacular instead of Latin). So, I’m mainly doing things that can be done in English. I think the extent of the Hebrew in the service will be 9 words: the Shema (6 words) and a chant for Ahavah Rabbah (3 words), and I’ve transliterated those 9 words.

Otherwise, I think we’ll sing a psalm in English, and do a guided meditation. Oh yes, and do some blessing of God for creation in English. All in all, it should be a nice service, give some taste of Jewish prayer, and, at the same time, come in at under 30 minutes (thereby rendering a completely inauthentic experience of shabbat morning services).

I’m looking forward to this, and think it should be fun. After the service, I go home, and plan to sleep for much of the day, and finally be rid of this cold.

Jewish Spirituality knitting

Shabbat is Here!

Woohoo…it’s shabbat. I’m done with work for the week. A tequila improves sanctity.

This would be a sabbath of rest (and maybe a little yarn shopping). Abundant Yarn and Dyeworks has a  cool event tomorrow,  and Martin and Larissa Brown will be there in the afternoon for the release of their new book. Very exciting book (I’ve seen the proofs, and Martin reviewed them at CubeSpace.

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Is this Shabbat?

I’m getting ready for my weekend, which includes shabbat. In this case, that includes a double bar mitzvah at services tonight and Saturday morning. You might think this would mean less work for the rabbi, since the bar mitzvah boys will be leading much of the service. Somehow, however, the anxiety of being the cheerleader for those leading the service outweighs the reduction in workload from actually leading the service.  I know they’ll do fine, but it always is a little bit stressy for everyone involved.

The preparation is largely done, though I am still polishing the two sections of Torah I’ll be reading tomorrow morning. I have my “sermons” (really more like speeches to the young men) ready for tonight.

For Sunday, I’m beginning an adult Hebrew class.  I’m putting together my own curriculum and materials for the class.  This will either work really well or really poorly (or something in between). The basic idea is that I’m going to be teaching vocabulary in a less systematic way than formal language instruction normally would, with the emphasis on words that come up frequently in prayers. This week will largely be about separating out the prefixes and suffixes from words, and a few very basic words.

Even on a shabbat when I’m working, I prefer to head into it with a feeling of mindfulness, that I feel like is missing this week. Somehow, this feels more like, “once more into the breach…” than focusing on each moment and aspect as it arrives. However, shabbat is still a good 6 hours off or so, and perhaps I’ll have transformed by then.

In the meantime, a photo from yesterday:  driving-dog.jpg

Jewish Spirituality

One Shabbat, Coming Up

This week, Shabbat will be a day of rest. I am not leading services this week, which is lovely. While I normally love to lead services, at the moment, I just want to collapse in a heap of relaxation. And the wonderful thing is, I will get to. Shortly.

It’s been, I believe, 2 weeks since I had a day off. I’m kind of looking forward to it. I won’t get much done, which is okay (at least mainly okay, or at least the way things are going to be whether it’s okay or not). But regardless of the household chores that need doing, they’re not happening in the next 24 hours. Nope. It’s Shabbat.

Maybe I’ll read a little. Or knit. If I get really inspired I might even read something non-fiction, but let’s not set expectations too high. The only reason I know that I plan to wake up in the morning tomorrow, rather than sleeping until mid-afternoon, is I’m pretty sure my coffee addiction won’t allow me to sleep that late.

A day off. A wonderful thing. Brought to you by the Torah (available in fine synagogues everywhere).

Jewish Spirituality WorkPlace Spirituality

Shabbat is Coming

A few more hours until Shabbat. This is a week when I am going down to Salem. Oddly enough, this weekend I’m down in Salem on Friday and Saturday, but not Sunday, because religious school is canceled for Presidents Day Weekend. So I am prepping for this odd weekend when I work shabbat and then have Sunday off.

On Friday afternoons when I’m headed down to Salem, I leave very early. Services start at 7:30. Theoretically, it’s about 1 hour to get down to Salem, 1.5 hours with rush hour traffic (though I have spent as long as 2.5 hours on the trip on one particularly awful Friday afternoon). So I could leave around 5:30 or 6 and probably be fine. Instead, I leave around 3:30 or 4, which gets me into Salem at 5 or a little afterwards. Which gives me roughly 2 hours to relax, prepare for Shabbat and do any last minute preparation for services before people begin to arrive.

I use these two hours in a variety of ways. Sometimes I will finsh preparation on a sermon for the evening, or spend some time working on the Torah portion for Saturday morning. More often, I try to use the time in a non-work type of way. I’ll read or knit. Sometimes I’ll listen to an audio book on the computer while I knit. Sometimes I’ll eat a light early supper, but often I’ll count on a late lunch to carry me through.

It’s an interesting and odd way  to move into Shabbat…driving through rush hour traffic and then relaxing, and then pumping myself up for services again. But it’s become a pattern that feels like the beginning of Shabbat to me.

Jewish Spirituality knitting shabbat

Flavors of Shabbat, Flavors of Yarn

Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) begins at sundown each Friday night, lasting through sundown Saturday. It is a time of prayer and rest. A break from the business of the week, an opportunity to reconnect with your soul, your family, your congregation or the Divine. It is a day on which Jews traditionally do no work.

Unless, of course, the Jew in question is a rabbi. One of the ironies of life as a rabbi is that many of us “give up” those religious holidays and observances which we became rabbis in order to celebrate. Part of the reason many of us became rabbis was to live more in tune with the rhythms of the Jewish calendar, to have the Jewish holidays be dates of special importance, and be able to observe them. While at some level we all know that rabbis work on these holidays, but it is fairly easy to say, “but that’s different, I want to go to synagogue on the holidays anyway.”

This certainly remains true…but there is a difference between “I want to go to synagogue,” and “I have to go to synagogue.” There are weeks when I want nothing more than a Shabbat of rest, when I can catch up on sleep and rest, yet I am obliged to head out to synagogue.  I’m pleased that as Shabbat draws near to day, I’m excited about heading down to Salem for services. This week, my schedule and my spiritual needs are well synched, and I’m eagerly anticipating services.

I like the fact that there are various flavors to Shabbat…prayer versus rest; contemplation versus play. All are refreshing in their own way. I enjoy the fact that as a rabbi I have the opportunity to experience more of them than many people. Often, multiple on the same day.

Tomorrow, after services, (prayer) I will proceed to play.  As many of you know, my hobby is knitting. And knitting requires yarn. For you who come at this blog more from the Jewish side of things, let me explain about knitters and yarn: as books are to a rabbi, yarn is to the knitter. There is no such thing as “enough yarn.” Going and browsing yarn is an activity in and of itself, even if there is no intention to buy. After all, you never know what you might discover. Tomorrow, I will go play, because a new yarn shop is holding a grand opening. Yarnia is opening up, and I’m pretty excited to go explore.

Yarnia is a new concept in yarn shops, which lets you blend your own yarn. You choose how many plies  of which fibers and colors to mix. This is potentially VERY exciting (I do kind of already have some projects in mind that will be massively enhanced by having a sport weight yarn made from several fibers, one of which in a lace weight is used for another part of the same project). For me, this visit to Yarnia will be play. I probably won’t buy anything (I do try not to shop on Shabbat), but even just exploring it will help refresh me, and prepare me for the week to come.

May the Sabbath be one of rest and refreshment for all of us, whichever day we celebrate it on.