The Joy of Shabbat

The people of Israel shall keep Shabbat, observing Shabbat throughout the ages as a covenant for all time. It is a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days Adonai made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God ceased from work and was refreshed.” (Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur) — and celebrated!

Well, I don’t really know if God celebrated, but I love the idea that God would celebrate the fruit of God’s labors. I am not alone in this way of thinking. Over the centuries, three fundamental goals were laid out by Jewish law (halakhah) for the marking of Shabbat. First, it should be a day of holiness (k’dushah); second, a day of joy (oneg); and third, a day of rest (m’nuchah). How these goals are actualized is left to individual interpretation. In essence, Shabbat should be different from the work days, not just in name alone, but in feeling as well. Traditional practices for celebrating Shabbat include hosting guests for festive meals with choice foods, devoting time to study, setting aside time to rest, promoting spiritual harmony especially among family members by being together, and of course, praying.

Shabbat is peppered with prayer services, each with its own climax that makes it different from a weekday service. For instance, Shacharit L’Shabbat, the Shabbat morning service, contains a Torah service with the reading of the week’s entire Torah portion. Mincha L’Shabbat, the service that completes Shabbat, concludes with the short but very moving Havdalah service. This service uses all of our senses to bid farewell to Shabbat so that we can keep Shabbat as part of us until it returns next week.

The service which begins Shabbat is one of my favorites. In the 16th-century, Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) in S’fat, Israel created a practice of going out into the fields on Friday afternoon to usher Shabbat in as a Queen. There, they sang psalms and wrote hymns that celebrated her, reminding her that all of creation is reveling in her beauty and singing her praises. These psalms and hymns, the centerpiece of which is L’cha Dodi, became a service that we know as Kabbalat Shabbat and lead us into Arvit L’Shabbat, the erev Shabbat prayer service. The joy and exaltation of these psalms and their melodies pervade our service, which allows our prayers to be extra special for Shabbat, our Queen.

Here at Washington Hebrew Congregation, we have created several special, musical Shabbat prayer services, which help us usher in Shabbat with beauty and joy. One we are particularly proud of is our Macomb St Shabbat. This monthly festive, joyful experience — introduced just over a year ago — has truly resonated with congregants of all ages.

Macomb St. Shabbat and Falls Rd. Shabbat both begin at 6:00 pm with a lively Torah study, coloring for children, and a pre-oneg. At 6:30 pm, we transition to the service, which has a five-piece band, and, of course, our Shabbat prayers, and it concludes with yet another oneg. Throughout it all, our congregants really get to know each other and have the opportunity to greet Shabbat with delight and harmony.

Macomb St. Shabbat has been so popular that, not only will it continue to be held every month at Temple, we are replicating the experience and a new monthly “Falls Rd. Shabbat” at the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center will premiere on November 15 (join us!).

The service, which encourages our congregants to feel the joy that Shabbat emanates, takes us through all of the emotions. We begin, as did the Kabbalists in S’fat, with music and unadulterated joy. As the service progresses to the call to worship, it becomes more contemplative, allowing the words of our prayers to wash over us, helping us to realize that we have much to be grateful for in our lives. As we near the end of our service, we have the opportunity to pray for protection and healing, and to thank God for the gift of life as we remember our loved ones who have passed on. We complete the service by asking God’s blessing upon our children — the future of our people.

“More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews” (Ahad Ha’am, 1856-1927).  For generations, our people have celebrated, observed, and protected our ability to commemorate Shabbat. We invite you to join us each and every Shabbat as we carry on the traditions of our people. Let us pray, sing, nosh, and greet each other with a resounding “Shabbat Shalom!” and may Shabbat bring each of us blessing and peace.