Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Power of the Flame

It was a lovely Shabbat, and I find myself reflecting on the power of the Flame in our tradition.

[First, a quick overview for those who may be unfamiliar with Jewish tradition: The Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew, Shabbos in Yiddish) begins at sundown on Friday evening every week, and continues until after sundown on Saturday evening. The holy day begins with the lighting of candles - some light 2 candles, some light as many candles as there are people in the family. A special blessing is recited: "Blessed Are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of the Shabbath." The tradition is for the person lighting the candles to wave the hands over the candles three time s before reciting the blessing, like gathering the light into your face, ushering in the warmth and peace of the Sabbath.

Shabbat morning, we spend at the synagogue [shul]. In our shul, we frequently stay for lunch. THe afternoon is a time to relax and be with family and friends. No work is to be done on Shabbat.

The end of Shabbat is also marked with flame. The Havdalah service is a very short {one page] service performed in the home {or wherever you happen to be at the end of Shabbat - Havdalah at camp is particularly lovely, especially beside a lake!}. The Havdalah servcie includes 3 items - a braided candle, a cup of wine (or grape juice), and a box of spices. Blessings are said over each of these. At the end of the ceremony, it is customary to extinguish the candle in the wine, for a sweet week.]

Ok. refresher course over. Now, my own experience. I love lighting the candles on Friday evening. Last year, David got me these really cool glass "candles" in Israel. They have a special wick, and I use liquid parafin to fill them. They are lovely. I light Shabbos candles at the counter between the kitchen and family room. The kids can stand on the couch in the family room and face the candles, and I stand in the kitchen, facing them.

Sofia loves helping light the candles. She runs to get a kippah (yarmulka, traditional head covering. We have a huge basket full of them!) for everyone (it is traditional to cover the head). She races up to the couch. She covers her eyes, and chants "Baaaaaa" (liek the opening word, "Baruch").

After I light candles, I give each kid a blessing. Micah tends to run away; it is common for kids his age to not want to participate in this. But both Sam and Sofia love getting their blessings. The blessing is similar for both, a combination of the Priestly Three-Fold blessing ("may the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his countenance to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, may the Lord shine his countenance upon you and grant you love and peace."), followed by "may G-d make you like Ephraim and Menassah [for boys - Joseph's sons]/ Sarah Rebecca, Rachel and Leah [for girls - the Matriarchs]". I place my hands on their head and whisper these blessings in Hebrew to them, and I can use this moment to share some private thoughts with each kid.

I love seeing their faces over the candles. I love giving them their blessings (I "throw" a blessing to Micah).

Friday night we went to our friend's house for dinner. Sofia was really tired; I ended up bringing her home early, but since David had met us there after work, he and the boys got to stay and play a bit more.

Saturday morning we went to shul, and it was a special "Camp Shabbat". Instead of using the sanctuary, there was an adult service upstairs in the large classroom, and a kid-friendly service in the Social Hall, lead by one of the directors of Camp Ramah, one of the many wonderful Jewish overnight camps in the area. Sam will be going there next summer!

After services and lunch, there was programming for kids in grades 3-6. Sam had a lot of fun. Micah went home with another friend for a play date. David chased Sofia around the shul for a while (she knows A LOT of hiding places!). I finally had to drive them home and then race back for Sam. I was also in charge of one of his classmates. The program ended a bit early (not as many kids stayed for the afternoon as they had thought). I took the classmate, a girl, back to our house for a while because she likes to play with Sofia. The girls played, Sam went next door to play with his friend for a while. I left Sam there and took the two girls to pick up Micah. Then I called Sam and his friend back over for ice cream and Havdalah.

It was just me and the 5 kids (David had of course gone in to the office for a while). I really loved standing at the table with them, looking at their faces while they watched the flames from the candle. We turn off all the lights in the house while we do Havdalah, so the flame is the only light.

Their eyes were all shining. Their faces were bright with the excitement (and fueled by the sugar in the small ice cream sundaes, too!). They all "got it", how special this moment was, marking the transition from sacred time to "normal" time.

I love this!


My name is Sarah said...

This is Joyce. Thank you for this wonderful, very understandable description of your day. We live on the eastside of Cleveland which has many synagogues and we were just invited to a bat mitzvah by the woman who cuts our hair. She said she hopes that I bring Sarah, so I want to help her learn about what we are going to before we get there. Your refresher was a great start for us. Thank you.