Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Shabbat for a Goy: What a Hassle!

Now, everyone has read or heard accounts from (formerly) less-observant or secular Jews about their first Shabbat during some kind of kiruv event. There’s a formula for those kinds of stories, and it usually goes like this: “It was unlike anything I had ever done before. There was singing, dancing, laughter, and wonderful food. The joy on everyone’s face lifted me up. It was the most spiritual event of my life, and I knew this is what was missing from my life.”

I’m sure that many people are moved by their first Shabbat in just that fashion, but it just doesn’t work that way for everyone. An example: Me. I am not a particularly “soft” spiritual guy. While spirituality is very real and important to me, the way I would describe it might seem entirely foreign to others. My girlfriend has commented more than once that I am distinctly Mitnagid and not Chassidish. This is an important bit of background information to know, because it made that first Shabbat…not very special.

I was skeptical of the whole deal to begin with. No nothing for 25 hours? No electricity, no driving, no cooking? Can you read on the computer at least? No? Jeez! How in the world do you eat a decent meal like that? Reheated food doesn’t really sound like a very special holiday to someone who grew up in a household where holidays consisted of enough food to feed an army, made that day, right up until the time to eat.

It’s hard to figure out what to do with yourself when nothing is allowed. My previous concept of a “day of rest” was to stay in bed late, wander around in pajamas all day, watch some TV, read some books, order a pizza, and read some websites. Just generally lazing around. Those days didn’t come around very often, and they were never quite as restful as they would have seemed. Shabbat though? That was a pile of boredom waiting to happen!

That’s not to say that first Shabbat was not enjoyable. It was a distinctly different experience. I still snuck away to check out sports scores and the like, and the light switches were still being used, but otherwise, it was not like any other day. Most importantly, it was easy to see how she and other Jews felt about the day. I just hadn’t decided if they were for real or simply mimicking the actions of their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, ad infinitum.

Mind you, this was months and months before the decision to convert, before I knew much of anything about Orthodox observance. I was simply visiting a new friend who happened to be an Orthodox Jew and who had me enthralled to the point where I wanted to learn more about her. Shabbat was a big part of that. I wanted to know why she disappeared on Friday nights only to reappear on Saturday. Why we couldn’t chat for 25 hours when the thought of going more than 8 seemed unbearable.

My appreciation and love for Shabbat came much later, after a number of other “basic” observances. It came with intense studying, really learning what it meant for God to give this day to the Jewish people. It came with understanding the brilliance of the prohibited activities, and how they distract you from the spiritual side of your being. How Shabbat forces you to take your spiritual side seriously. And just as importantly, your relationships with others seriously.

For someone like me, Shabbat gains it’s meaning when you learn and understand why God wants this from you. This is also where I gained a new found respect for the emphasis Orthodoxy places on learning. Without continual learning, even in a seemingly mundane, spiritless fashion, the spirituality that some seek becomes meaningless, or worse: perverted in some fashion.

This Shabbat comes after a very long week of learning, working, sleep, and blogging. It’s hard work to be a good Jew. I can’t wait.

Shabbat Shalom!

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