OR: How We Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Kiddush
You might be surprised to learn — we shouldn’t assume. Rather, we were surprised to learn — that Shabbat is the most important ritual in Judaism. Derived from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, the Sabbath (an anagram, for Hashem’s sake!) is the only Jewish ritual that’s actually name-dropped in the Ten Commandments, and we’re not just talking about our boy Charlton’s star turn. The commandment to remember the sabbath is so important, in fact, that it appears even before the commandment to honor thy mother and father - a commandment so natural, so simple, so undeniably human one wonders why it isn’t top of the list, a place held instead by G-d’s almost neurotic insistence that he is indeed the Lord, our G-d. But, pray tell: Was G-d not the father of all of us? (Or mother, if you’re going to be like that.)
We digress - but only slightly, and with a distinct lack of digression.
So what the fuck, then. What’s up with this Shabbat business? Ma Nish Ta Na Ha Laila, huh? What makes it so important that, in native Hebrew, it’s not just a thing you do, it’s the whole damn day - there’s no other word for Saturday besides Shabbat. Well, even the most ignorant among us certainly know the traditional trappings - no handling of money, no using electricity, no working, a quick trip to the temple (or four.) Maybe it’s just G-d’s version of Family Games Night.
We should preface this business by admitting that we here at Jewbauchery do not keep the sabbath. With all due respect to friends who do, we think our lives would be considerably less interesting (though arguably, considerably more spiritually engaging) if we did. And since our relationship with G-d is our personal matter, we won’t really touch on the religious aspects but rather, the heart of it all, the thing we Jews love to tout:
Welcome to a new feature here at Jewbauchery: Tales From The Vault. Effectively, it’s story-telling time down at the Jewbauchery campfire.
Jay here, with a personal story bound to tickle your fancy (Or your ivories. Or your ovaries. Welp. I’m sure I’ll tickle something.)
I lived in my father’s house for the first twenty two years of my life - an arguable figure, considering I was living in the dorms at Brandeis University for the latter four. All the same, Waltham, MA, the gray chain-link city Brandeis calls home, is a mere eleven minutes away from Wayland, the small town in which I was raised. Even then, during college, I would often slip away from the bustling dormitories and back to my father’s house for a traditional Friday night Shabbat dinner. Mom would make roast chicken or brisket or (on a particularly adventurous and short-lived streak of flair) chicken-pot-pie or something, and we’d tear off some challah and we’d catch each other up on our weeks gone by.
And every Friday of my life - like beautiful clockwork - once we’d told the jokes and (as I grew older) finished our first scotches and shot the proverbial shit - we would eventually gather around the table, and allow ourselves to grow quiet (reverent, even) as my father slowly filled the silver goblet with the good stuff, that wine we kept in the glass bottle decanter in the dining room.
He’d wait until we were silent, and then once more like clockwork, clear his throat and dive right in.
Vayihi-erev, vayihi-voker. Yom ha-shishi, vaikhulu ha-shamayim ve-ha’aretz ve-khol tzeva’am.
Even now, typing these awful transliterations by sense memory, I can hear my father’s voice, hear his pauses. I know the words he breathes between. He can blaze through the entire first paragraph in one single breath and it is a stunning sight to behold. It’s like watching a trapeze artist teeter —- and then continue!
And then, a breath! A single, powerful, drawn-from-the-diaphragm, full-to-the-brim breath, the kind of breath that G-d intended when he created the air we breathe. An archetypal breath. The ultimate breath. I could live in the space this breath created, there at our table, almost always - my mother, my brother and I, lost in the space my father’s breath had created, eyes down, waiting, waiting, waiting with bated breath for him to continue.
And then, when we stopped believing he could keep inhaling, and then he kept inhaling anyway, and then! and then! BOOM! He raises the glass and the crowd goes wild! Good lord, I think it is, it’s — it’s — the blessing over the wine! But no, he’s not done, not by a long shot - another breath? FUCK NO. Onwards! Upwards! Lightning speed Hebrew tumbling out of his mouth, fully formed, like a pasta maker or that crazy machine that prints whole roads.
Blessed are you, lord, king of the universe, who made us holy with his commandments and favored us, and gave us His holy Sabbath, in love and favor, to be our heritage, as a reminder of the Creation.
That’s straight out of Torah, yo. This moment, repeated (52*22, carry the 4…) 1,144 times over the course of my childhood — my father, my mother, my brother and I, lost in the spell my father’s words would cast — receiving this as my heritage, in the presence of my creators, in the presence of THE CREATOR HIM(HER)(IT)SELF, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
Holy, holy, holy, still on the same breath! Tumbling and diving and tap-dancing through the words, the red wine in the silver glass throwing the light around the room, the chicken crisping in the oven, the challah, so close, so tantalizing, and in this quiet moment, this peaceful eternity, we swoop and we dive and —— and—-
—————————- AMEN! WE EXPLODE! And there’s the chicken, and potatoes, and (as I grew older) more scotch! And more food! And more! And Mom, this is delicious, thank you, and so, Dad, how was your week?
Shabbat is the day of rest. That’s not true. I call bullshit on that. Has G-d ever been to Los Angeles? Tonight I’m going out. That’s a fact. It’s been a fact ever since I learned what ‘going out’ was all about. I’m going out tomorrow, too. I’m not going to rock the Havdallah, I’m (probably) not going to temple. That’s not my Shabbat.
Shabbat, for me, takes place over the almost precisely forty-nine seconds it has taken my father to recite the kiddush for twenty five years of my life.
And then it’s done. And once we’ve remembered the sabbath and kept it holy, I’m thankful that I am able, in one fluid motion, to honor my mother and father.
And when the time comes that I have a family of my own - and even before then, whenever I’m so lucky as to deliver the kiddush on a Friday night, any time, any where, I’ll hear my father’s voice in my ears, and that, for me, will be my sabbath.
Good shabbos, friends, make this one count.