Maybe you’ve heard the old joke that the Jewish week is divided into two parts. One day of the week is Shabbat. The other six days of the week? They’re spent preparing for Shabbat.
Some people who celebrate Shabbat think like that. But many people, including myself, look at their to-do lists and google calendars and think: How am I ever going to make this work?
Carving out time to celebrate Shabbat each week can be daunting– and preparing for a day of restoration, family, and gratitude can be a lot of work. Here are a few simple tips for planning a restorative Shabbat and connecting with Judaism, whatever you want the day to look like:
Make a Plan
Planning for Shabbat can be a time-intensive process or a 5-minute one. First, take some time to reflect on your goals for this Shabbat:
Is there a Jewish practice or tradition that most excites you, like lighting candles or studying Torah?
Are there people you’re hoping to share the day with?
Are you most excited about the chance to unplug from work or step back from your technology?
Do you want to spend time connecting with the divine through prayer, meditation, or song?
After reflecting on your goals for Shabbat, you can start to make a general plan. Perhaps you’ve been having a busy time at work and want to spend Shabbat connecting with nature along with friends– try getting together with a couple people to go on a walk on Saturday afternoon. Maybe you’ve been wanting to dive into Jewish texts — check the website of local synagogues and see if they do a text study that you can join!
Set Your Space
Traditionally, Jewish families clean their homes on Fridays before Shabbat as if they are preparing to receive an honored guest. One of my favorite pre-Shabbat traditions is calling my mom while speed-cleaning my apartment. It always puts me in a great mood.
There are psychological benefits to straightening up, too. As Gretchen Rubin writes, “outer order contributes to inner calm.”
Beyond cleaning, many people use fragrance, flowers, table settings, plants, and other items to create a Shabbat environment that inspires reflection. I know several families who have small Shabbat “shrines” (my wording) filled with ritual items, family portraits, artwork, and candles– the physical items serve as a tangible reminder of the joy of family, community, and nature, helping them to welcome Shabbat.
Surround Yourself with Good Company
Hi, what are you doing on Friday Night? Would you like to join me for Shabbat dinner?
Sharing a meal, a walk, a board-game, or any activity with other people is a sure-fire path to a joyful Shabbat. Since I don’t text or make calls on Shabbat, I like to make plans with friends and family in advance, but I also budget time for spontaneity. Since Shabbat is the only day of the week when I’m not being run by my google-calendar, I cherish the chance to have long, meandering conversations, to spend quality time with elderly relatives, and to share the day with my friends.
Tap into Tradition
Every Shabbat, I try to incorporate traditions from a range of sources. I tear and toss our Challah like Rabbi Greyber and ask everyone at the table the “Good Thing of the Week” like Rabbi Elana. I wear white, which reminds me of Shabbat at Camp Louise, though Jewish people have been doing so since at least the 1500s, and read a weekly tarot spread that I learned from my friend Destiny.
Think about what traditions most resonate with you.
Are you most drawn to traditional Shabbat observance? Do you feel most connected to Shabbat practices that remind you of someone, like a relative or close friend? Perhaps the most meaningful thing for you is to tap into a tradition of Jewish people working to create a more just world– you might dedicate the day to marching against police brutality or working with an interfaith group working for economic justice.
Give Yourself an “Out”
Finally, remember that part of Shabbat is letting go of our perfectionism, our constant urge to fix and change things. It’s about delighting in the world exactly as it is, in this moment. It’s impossible to connect with our loved ones and revel in the world around us if we are constantly obsessing over doing things “wrong.”
Truthfully, this is something I continue to struggle with. I can be a Shabbat perfectionist. Week after week, I remind myself of the very essence of Shabbat: we are already whole.
So cut yourself some slack. You don’t need to be the perfect host, to know every bracha (blessing), or to spend every moment of the day in contemplation. You’re doing great.
Shabbat Shalom, Y’all.