Breathing as One: Shabbat as a Common Language

What comes to mind when you think of Shabbat? Do memories immediately surface? Special clothing or recipes, beloved faces around the table? Or maybe Shabbat traditions that are unique to your family and community?

Perhaps you think of the glowing candles, the tablecloth soft and bright. Maybe the smells of soup and fresh-baked challah come to mind. While some might see these components as cliché, for many of us, these are the images and comforts that make up not only the kaleidoscope of our childhoods, but our lasting Jewish identities.

These details become a common language among us. As parents, we often create Shabbat in our homes as a liminal, sacred space used for reflection and relaxation; we use the peace of Shabbat to teach our children these tools, tools which they can bring with them into adulthood. Whether Shabbat is about faith or family, tradition or peace, or a mix of all of these, by giving our children the language of Shabbat, we give them the inner spiritual strength to meet what life brings.

Of course, Shabbat does not stay only in the home. It spills over into the synagogue, with familiar melodies, flowing tallitot, and the joyous reading of the sefer Torah. It is evident in the meals a community creates together, to celebrate births and milestones. Shabbat can be found in turning off a cell phone, in eye contact and long conversations. Shabbat is the deep breath, the profound sense of peace that we choose to create in our communities each week.

In the Grace After Meals on Shabbat, the Birkat Hamazon, we mention “יום שׁכּלו שׁבּת,” the day that is completely Shabbat. Rabbinic literature explains that this refers to the time of the Messiah, Moshiach. A cornerstone of Jewish faith, the ways to understand the concept of Moshiach are as many as seats around the Shabbat table. But in the language of Shabbat, what would the time of Moshiach be like? In the language of Shabbat, a Messianic age might be a time of serenity, of community. A time of warmth and nurturing, of being well-fed and well-loved. A time of unity and kinship, of celebration and seeing one another in our best light. A time that is anchored in the symbols that are themselves the language of Shabbat—the recipes, the candlesticks, the tallitot.

This is what we all strive to create in our homes, synagogues, and communities each week: a small taste of what a perfect world might feel like. A respite from daily life but also the antidote to it; a common language of gentleness and reflection.

What aspects of Shabbat will you incorporate or strengthen in your home this week? Perhaps the melodies of the Shabbat prayers will fill your rooms, or the scent of a special family recipe will waft from the kitchen. Perhaps Shabbat will appear in a stack of books waiting to be read, in the beautiful candlesticks ready to be lit, or in simply pausing to take a deep breath, letting the past week fall away with gratitude and ease. Whatever form the language of Shabbat takes for you, we wish you peace and joy, comfort and meaning. Shabbat Shalom!


Sara Bellin is a non-profit program manager and freelance writer in the Boston area. By day she engages with contemporary challenges in Jewish education, and then pulls up her chair again at home to write articles relating to Jewish lifestyle, identity and values. Bellin lives in Brookline with her husband and two year old son.

February 03, 2019





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