The Bet El Yeshiva Website's "Ask the Rabbi" section has emerged as the leading venue for secular Israelis to ask their first questions about Judaism. Dozens of intriguing inquiries come in each month from the non-religious sector, and a yeshiva rabbi, Yitzhak, answers them daily with love, warmth, and patience.
The letters are personal so I have changed the name in the refreshing exchange below. Enjoy!
Shalom. My name is Sharon. I am 17-years-old and live with my parents.
I live in a house which is totally secular, and I want to start keeping Shabbat, bezrat hashem.
I have a few questions and would be very happy to get some answers, because I really don't have anyone else to turn to.
1. Is it possible to keep Shabbat in a house where everyone else is not religious? How do I start?
2. How do I make a blessing over the food if I am the only one in the house keeping Shabbat? I ask because I saw on your site that there are special foods for religious people on Shabbat, and I really don't know how to relate to this issue.
That's basically it. I don't know what to do and where to start, but since your site rocks and is so nice and you allow people to write in, I am turning to you in the hopes you will answer me and guide me on how to start.
So thanks. I await your reply,
Shalom Dear Sharon,
I was very happy to receive your letter and am happy to help you in any way I can.
In addition to spreading Torah knowledge, our site strives to help people who turn to us and answer, guide, and help them build their spiritual world and be more fulfilled. This is my job on the site staff – to give direction on questions which require personal attention.
Usually, I also try to help establish contact with a suitable person in your area, someone who will be happy to help. This way, spiritual development is fostered with greater ease. A connection with the right person can help solve many difficulties, and enable you to learn more and advance quicker. So if you want, I can connect you with someone in your area. Just let me now.
And now to your questions:
It made me so happy to read of your wonderful desire to keep Shabbat. The Shabbat is a treasure, and the more one keeps it, the more one realizes what a beautiful treasure it is, how much light it illuminates, and how much joy and warmth Hashem gives us when we observe it.
In order to feel the great joy of Shabbat, it is important to advance step by step, because sometimes rushing too fast causes pressures and difficulties.
The first thing to start with, in my opinion, is the positive commandments, that is, Kiddush, the Shabbat meals, and the Shabbat prayers. Each is a special experience, and they give strength to continue learning and advance to refraining from the prohibitions of Shabbat.
The prohibitions of Shabbat are not there to weigh us down, but rather to assist us in sensing the specialness of the Shabbat, like a diamond which is important to safeguard, and only if your guard it, will you merit to enjoy its splendor.
Beloved Sharon! Make Kiddush on Shabbat, and feel how special the gift of Shabbat is, and how sweet it is, and how it elevates us from the mundane day-to-day routine. If you want more specific guidance, exactly how and what to do, I will write you in detail.
Remember that growing into Shabbat is dependent upon you. Even in surroundings where no one keeps Shabbat, you can reveal the beautiful light of Shabbat and be uplifted. Make no demands of your family, but rather the opposite, let them sense your happiness and love. Continue to advance and develop yourself, and eventually, they will also want to follow in your path.
On Shabbat, you can eat regular food, though we try to eat special food made for the Shabbat in honor of the Shabbat. But you don't have to do that from the outset. The special food increases the Shabbat feeling, but if it presents too many difficulties, don't start with that now.
On Shabbat food, we make the same blessings as food on weekdays, with one small addition. I can send you a small booklet about the blessings before and after eating.
Orli, I am happy to maintain contact with you so get back to me soon. If you want help in establishing contact with someone in your area, tell me a bit more about yourself, and I will find someone for you.
Much much success,