A way to deepen the Shabbat experience involves less talking and more silence—something focused more internally. It is a practice called mindfulness. The following essay, exerpted from Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition, explores how mindfulness can be part of your Shabbat practice.
Be Like God
The opening narrative in the Book of Genesis introduces us to a hard-working and busy God, creating the entire world, according to the Torah, in just six days. The Book of Exodus introduces us to another aspect of God’s identity. Here the Torah reminds us, “On the seventh day [God] ceased from work and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17). The Hebrew words of this verse, bayom hashvi-i shavat vayinafash, are part of the V’shamru prayer sung on Friday night; they are also used to introduce the Kiddush on Shabbat morning.
The words tell us about God and speak to the human condition as well. They suggest that on the seventh day, we can be like God. We can become still; we can settle in, breathe deeply, and be refreshed. The rituals for the Shabbat table blessings are built around the Torah’s suggestion that God’s actions on the seventh day of creation are a model for all of us—men and women, teenagers, and even children. Work six days with a full heart at whatever you do and then stop. Stop and do something godlike, shavat vayinafash, sit still and breathe, become refreshed, and then return to the sacred work that fills our days, expressing creativity, working for freedom, repairing a broken world.
Shabbat is an invitation to slow down, to become more mindful of your self and your place in creation. The table blessings and rituals are tools to help make the transition from busy to not. It can be challenging to accept this sacred invitation, which is why it helps to keep the following in mind:
- Slowing down is important.
- Silence is good.
- Posture makes a difference.
- Any attempt at prayer is enough.
- Even smiling helps!
Accepting the invitation to Shabbat and preparing to celebrate at the table can help us change pace and enable us to pay attention to how we move our bodies, use our breath, and quiet our minds. It’s a tiny taste of how we could live our lives, more attuned to the natural world, with greater connections to other people and greater awareness of God’s example.
Even the physical act of setting out the candlesticks, the Kiddush cup, and the challah can help you begin to move into Shabbat with intention. The mindfulness meditations, which are offered along with the Home Service, can lead you further. You might try using one each week; perhaps do the same one for a few weeks in a row, or rotate them at other times. Some Fridays the process will feel right. You’ll know it has “worked.” Other times you may have less success. Remember that it is a practice, so we keep practicing, being grateful when we succeed and forgiving ourselves when we don’t.
Creating the Moment—Even Before Saying the Blessings
Experiment with the following steps when your friends and family arrive at the table ready to welcome Shabbat.
Stand with your feet planted about shoulders’ width apart. (This can also be done by those who
choose to remain seated.) This is a sturdy and deliberate stance.
Push your shoulders down and lengthen your spine to actually feel taller.
Close your eyes in order to focus better on your breath. If that is uncomfortable, just lower your
gaze to give everyone at the table some privacy.
Unclench your jaw, and loosen the muscles around your mouth.
Take one or two or even three long, slow, deep cleansing breaths in and out—inhaling so
deeply that you can actually feel your heart lift and ribs rise in your chest. It’s good to hear the sound of the breath, making its way from the world into the body and out again.
Open your eyes or raise your gaze.
Turn to the Home Service or one of the readings or meditations in Gates of Shabbat.
Read aloud—slowly, very slowly—paying attention to the pause of each comma, the rest after
each period, the open space between each paragraph.
When you are done reading, pause again—counting to five in your head. There is no rush.
Take another deep breath in and out.
Notice how Shabbat has arrived.
Shavat vayinafash. Now you are into the moment. Hold an image or a word in your mind and then . . . then it is time, depending on which meditation you are using, to strike the match, raise the Kiddush cup, or remove the cover from the challah and begin to bless.
Mark Dov Shapiro is Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA. He is the editor of Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition, published in 2016 by CCAR Press.
Excerpted from Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition, edited by Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro and published in 2016 by CCAR Press.