Ps. 92: Shabbat Practice in a Time of Pandemic

Smiling headshot of Judith Rosenbaum wearing a light blue blouse

Judith Rosenbaum, PhD, is CEO of the Jewish Women’s Archive, a pioneering national organization that documents Jewish women’s stories, elevates their voices, and inspires them to be agents of change. A writer, educator, and historian, Judith teaches, lectures, and publishes widely on Jewish studies and Women’s studies.

The world is shaken, and with it, the grounding rhythms of Shabbat

In the times before, Shabbat arrived in a burst of frenzy and anticipation. The rush of wrapping the week, leaving the office wishing I had completed one more thing, but glad to turn off the light and lock the door behind me. Fetching children, a hint of impatience in my voice – “Come on, it’s time to go! I still have to make dinner!” – and on the way home, a last stop at the grocery store for forgotten grape juice and ok, ice cream for dessert. 

No rest yet at home, bags dropped by the door, straight to the kitchen to set pots to simmering. The satisfaction and slight surprise, each week, of drawing a meal from that quick mother’s alchemy. Insistent pleas to kids to clear the week’s debris from the dining table. “Fresh tablecloth, set the table nicely, candles, cover the challah – quickly! It’s getting late.”

And then, time slows, the quiet settles over us. I sit down, finally, pour a glass of wine. Inhale peace, exhale gratitude. Blessings.

***

How to praise this new Shabbat, which arrives unformed, as if the melody and words to a once-familiar song are only half remembered?

There should be no rush – we are all home, still home, always home. But without boundaries or thresholds to cross, only a virtual Zoom room to withdraw from, the song of ascent to Shabbat is muted. 

Anxiety presses in, slinking among the pots and pans as I try to enact the familiar rituals that once served to slough off the week. 

The only distinct marker of Shabbat is to close the laptop… only to reopen it minutes later so that we may share a Zoom Shabbat dinner with friends and family. 

***

In this chaos, I’ve reembraced an old ritual: baking challah each week as I did years ago when my children were sticky-fingered preschoolers who poked and patted dough with glee.  

I do not know when this virus will be defeated, cannot be assured that our failed leaders will fall like timber. Little in this world feels steadfast or faithful. But the warm rising of yeast, the responsive bounce of dough, greets me every week.

This, now, is how I find space to breathe. Measure the yeast, sugar, salt. Mix in eggs, one by one, then flour. Stirring, stirring, until the dough begins to take shape. So wet at first, then firmness emerging as I knead, leaning into the heels of my palms in a rhythm that clears my mind. It is good to praise God, if not with joy and gladness, then at least with the sureness of strong hands shaping dough, glazing braided loaves with love and care. How great are Your works, O God, how very subtle Your designs.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.