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A Sabbath in the Making

By Paula Stern
1/6/2012, 8:01 AM

A Sabbath in the Making

Life has a way of happening. Three years ago, I dreaded the Sabbath coming. It meant radio-silence and 25 hours of not knowing what was happening to Elie, to the south, in Gaza. It was agony disconnecting from the phone, from the computer knowing that the Arabs would continue to fire rockets, that the battle would continue, perhaps even intensify.

Since that time, since the war ended, closing down means that much more to me. When I can gather my children near me, I am most happy. Even when they aren't here, the peace comes to my home with the lighting of the candles. It is truly that simple and that instant and long after the candles burn out, the peace remains.

It's 8:05 a.m. here in Israel. I had an exhausting but fruitful week with work - new clients, new appointments, new projects, a new class starting on Sunday with a really wonderful new group of students. A new challenge - a remote class starting as well, and more students there. I'm planning a wedding and a bat mitzvah and a national conference all in the space of a two month period. I got home last night and crashed. My body needs the sleep it was denied all week and, conversely, is unable to sleep for very long periods of time. I was up by 5:30 a.m. So here I sit, the challah is rising in one corner of the kitchen, near the burners where the soup is cooking.

I still have more to make, but it's quiet; it's peaceful. I have so much to do on so many fronts but the one inevitable and wonderful fact on a Friday is that the clock ticks down to a time when I'll put it all aside. The house is filling with the smells of Shabbat. My oldest daughter is bringing in the Shabbat in the home she has built with her husband and now her baby. Tonight, my middle son will be eating with his wife in the home they are building, and will come share lunch with us tomorrow. My older son and his future wife are spending Shabbat together in Jerusalem with friends. In some ways, it is a prelude to the home and the Shabbatot (Sabbaths) they will make after their wedding.

I honestly don't know how others live without this day in their lives. I once had a secular friend tell me that I was so lucky I had Shabbat. I was astounded. She could have it too, I thought. But the truth is that only that which you save, do you have. Only that which you guard, remains yours. In Hebrew we say, "l'shmor" on the Sabbath - to guard it. If someone is observant, they are called "shomer shabbat" - one who guards the Sabbath. In guarding it, in keeping it, you keep it holy and you keep it yours.

It is a double prize, a two-edge sword. If you think it restrictive, and at times it is, you have to understand that this very element is, in part, what makes it so incredible. Those who feel they can choose to follow or not, as the whim comes, end up letting it go too often. Life, they will tell you, forces their hand and they lose something precious. By believing fully that the choice to keep Shabbat isn't a choice at all, you know that it is always there, always coming.

I grew up not religious. I once arrogantly asked my brother-in-law if he could open a light on Shabbat. When he answered that he could not, I responded that I could, but chose not to - as if that was in some way superior. He smiled a bit as he thought about it and then asked, "but can you really?" He was right - after years of choosing to keep the Sabbath, it had become as ingrained in me as if I had been born to it. I know longer think I can turn a light on; I no longer believe it is my choice.

And, amazingly enough, I am happier for that decision. Shabbat will come today, in a few hours, and I'll close the computer, shut the phone. I won't go driving, won't even think about work. I'll sleep, I'll eat with friends and family. I'll walk in this beautiful city, in this beautiful land.

There are those who believe that peace will never come to this land. In some ways, I am among this group. I do not believe the Palestinians will settle for anything short of the full destruction of my country and since that is something they will never get, there will always be a battle. Aren't you tired of fighting? People ask me.

As if I had a choice...as if I chose to fight.

But what they fail to understand is that we do live in peace - more peace than you can imagine. Every Friday, there is bread rising in my kitchen. I could buy a machine to knead the dough - I prefer to do it with my own hands. It rises and is baked, and the smell announces that the Sabbath is coming. One of my children fills the candelabra with oil - beautiful colors - purple, turquoise, gentle orange, several shades of blue. More signs that the Sabbath is coming. We will soon greet each other with "Shabbat shalom" - the peace of the Sabbath.

The white table cloth on the table - that much of the week has a computer on it - is another sign. The fragrant smells of soup and chicken and more. It's only hours away...

Peace is coming to my land. It is inevitable; there is no choice. Shabbat shalom.