Sunday, August 3, 2008

Notes From Shabbos

Every Shabbos, I think of the earth turning. I visualise Jerusalem and imagine what time it might be there. I always think of family in other time zones and try to imagine what they might be doing.
I am in the minority in my family. I like wine that is semi dry or dry. Most of the family likes sweet wine. It is more important to me (up to a point) where the wine is from. Drinking Hungarian wine, I am always lost in thoughts about my grandfather and his family. Italian wine makes me think of the relative kindness of Italians to Jews during the war.
A long time ago, I developed a way to bridge the diverse tastes in wine in my family. I make kiddush on wine of my choosing and empty the cup to the last few drops. Then I fill the cup up with the sweet wine everyone likes. This way, everyone gets from the same cup what they prefer. It has taken on a symbolism to me that everyone has needs that might differ, and the family should offer to each individual what they need. One blessing on a cup out of which different wines are poured expresses my feeling that there can be different approaches to a common goal.
This shabbos I made a Bosnian dish called cevapcici.(pronounced chevapchichi) It is seasoned ground meat that is usually grilled. My mother is from that part of the world. I promised her before she passed away that I would honour those parts of Balkan culture that are compatible with Judaism and that the region would always be in my prayers for peace. Jewishness was something I had to take for myself, but my parents shared enough of their portion of truth that I was able to take it to a proper conclusion. Preparing cevapcici for shabbos expresses my fondness for my mother's family and a desire to elevate the sparks of holiness in that part of the world.
I am seriously hooked on caffeine. Before Shabbos, I make a pot of Turkish coffee. I drink it cold on Shabbos. To me, the simultaneous tastes of bitterness and sweetness remind me that only in human language are they opposites. In reality they are one and come from The One. Drinking bittersweet coffee expresses an acceptance of G-d's wisdom in our lives in those matters that are beyond our control. The grounds must settle in the Turkish coffee before one drinks it. This is a lesson to me as I get older that we must step into the background of our children's lives, that the time we spent with them left its flavour, just as the ground coffee imparted a flavour to the water. It also reminds me of human mortality, that we drop out of the world as others did before us, yet our presence has made a difference. It reminds me that death is a part of life.
Even in the summer, I always have hot food in the day time, warmed in the manner prescribed byJewish law. By doing that, I affirm the legitimacy of Talmudic law.
My wife always makes whole grain challas. She switched over when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Just looking at it reminds me of the changes she made in the home to maintain my physical health. It evokes gratitude to her and awe at the biological intricacies of maintaining a healthy sugar level. It is impossible to study the intricacies of living with diabetes without thinking of the Great Intelligence behind human and animal biology. Sometimes illness reminds us of the invisible miracles behind a nice day.
Years ago in Morristown, New Jersey, the head of my yeshiva, Rabbi Avraham Lipskier was saying the havdala prayer, marking the end of Shabbos. As I had seen it done before, I shut off the light so the flame from the havdala candle would appear more brilliant. He told me to turn the light back on. He explained that one should not diminish the light in the world to make one's own light appear brighter. We should instead make our own light brighter. The symbolism of this clearly extends to other areas of human endeavour. Although now I let my children turn out the lights during havdala, I share with them Rabbi Lipskier's wisdom.
I find that many things in life can be experienced as transient sensations or they can be reflected upon. In a sense, the mind is the taste buds of the soul. There are always opportunities to invest meaning in the what we believe to be mundane. Shabbos is a little slower and it is for me a little easier to find in it fragments of meaning in the commonplace. Like everything else, each day of rest is a work in progress. Thank G-d for Shabbos.


SJ said...

nice blog. read mine. XD

Magdeburger Joe said...

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