Shabbat had little meaning to me as a child. My family never attended a Friday night service, lit candles, or bought challah, and my husband’s family did not either. Shabbat dinner? Neither my husband nor I attended one until we were grown-ups. Now, as parents, we want to make Shabbat a part of our 2-year-old son’s existence.
Once or twice a month, we light the candles and sing the prayers over the candles and the bread. One of the first times we lit the candles, Simon’s face shone in excitement.
“Birthday?” he said. He started to purse his lips and move closer to try to blow out the two candles. “No, Simon,” I said. “It’s Shabbat. We don’t blow out the candles on Shabbat.” His Dad and I tell him that on Shabbat, we let the candles flicker until they burn out. The light in his eyes stays, and he is content to watch the flames dance. He grins, too, as we sing the prayers, and often tries to sing along with us.
Tonight will not be a Shabbat night. We will dine with my parents to celebrate my Dad’s upcoming birthday. This time, a candle may be blown out. If we ate at home, I am not sure I would pull out the candlesticks. It is not something I have ever done with my parents. It is something my husband and I do with Simon.
Our Shabbat dinner is as quick as a regular night dinner. A 2-year-old’s capacity for sitting at the table is minimal. Still, on at least one Friday night, we sat and sang several Shabbat songs, and Simon sat on his Daddy’s lap, clapping his hands. Some Fridays, we take him to temple for the Tot Shabbats. As he does at home, he watches the candle lighting, his eyes taking in the scene.
I have no idea what our toddler absorbs when we mark the start of Shabbat, which starts Friday evening and ends on Saturday night. I hope he will grow up to appreciate Shabbat. Maybe Jewish ritual, because it was introduced to him so early, will become a natural part of his life. When we light candles and sing Sabbath prayers, it as if we shut out the outside world for a moment. As the evening progresses, I sometimes wander back to the table before the candles die out. For a little longer, I savor the simple beauty of Shabbat.
For now our observance of Shabbat is limited to Friday evenings. Perhaps someday we will do more.
I would love to know how you mark Shabbat in your home. Do you have suggestions for others trying to make ritual a bigger part of our lives? Send in a comment. Shabbat shalom.