The Art of Shabbat

By Penny Nisson, Jewish Education Coordinator

When I think of Shabbat, a word derived from Hebrew root words meaning to rest, I think of the essence of being human and having free will. The celebratory aspects of Shabbat come into play when one chooses to make Shabbat a centerpiece of the week. The first mention of the word “holy” in the Torah is associated with Shabbat. Refraining from certain types of work that represent constructive, creative effort, allows people to eat more elaborately and spend time in a more leisurely fashion. Shabbat is sometimes described as a bride or queen, and its status invites spiritual enrichment and social interaction.

While Jews are commanded to remember and guard Shabbat, it is also a means to remember its significance as a commemoration of creation and freedom from slavery in Egypt. It is a day of great joy when one can set aside weekday concerns and devote themselves to more relaxing pursuits. Getting enough rest is integral to the overall health and wellbeing of all human beings.

As in other aspects of contemporary Jewish culture, Jewish people find interesting ways to observe Shabbat. It certainly takes discipline and structure to apply the principle of rest over the mastery of productivity in our stressful, over-scheduled lives. There is art in Shabbat observance. One definition of art is “a system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities,” and that certainly applies to Shabbat. Art is also defined as a skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation. Is setting aside quality time for Shabbat an art or skill? Perhaps it is. Embracing any aspect of Shabbat can be meaningful and celebrates time as a refuge.

Traditional Shabbat rituals create a serene environment in the home with sights, sounds and smells. The lighting of candles creates special light on Friday evening. There are blessings for children and parents, for wine (kiddush) and bread (challah). Showing appreciation for Shabbat includes the serving of special foods during three meals, singing Shabbat songs, and saying grace after meals (birkat hamazon). In the synagogue, prayer services and reading the Torah takes place.

Shabbat closes with Havdalah, a special ceremony that marks its separation from the rest of the week. It is customary to use a candle with several wicks, symbolizing the light of the first day of creation and the light of the first day of the week. A cup of wine or grape juice is used to represent the sweetness and joy of Shabbat, and a small spice box containing sweet smelling spices is sniffed to comfort people as they approach the coming week.

In the news lately, mention has been made of a revival of the Sabbath. At the Mizel Museum, we have initiated a Friday night program called The Art of Shabbat, when we invite the community to join us to celebrate time, engage in some Shabbat customs, and explore different forms of art that connect with Shabbat. Join us on Friday, February 10 for the special event.

In my own life, observing Shabbat is medicinal. It enhances my spirituality and blesses my life with a level of focus and decorum that is unattainable elsewhere. I believe that behaviors such as road rage, rudeness, and other societal ills might be alleviated if people took seriously a day of rest. The buzz of technology can temporarily be turned off for the good of human beings and the health of the body and mind. Lively conversations with family and friends at a beautifully set table, delicious smells emanating from the kitchen, and maybe a nap, can easily fill the day. Shabbat is an art for both beginners and experts alike, and it is definitely chicken soup for the soul.

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