Rabbinic Reflections: A quiet gift

I am supposed to know better. I should know from experience, and I should know from faith. And when it came to my daughter’s bat mitzvah, I should not have forgotten the Jewish wisdom of Shabbat when trying to make Shabbat fit into the party instead of the other way around.

My daughter celebrated that Jewish rite of passage known as becoming bat mitzvah (literally, daughter of the commandments) last week. Rightly, the focus was mostly on her role in the Shabbat morning service during which she was called to the Torah for the first time as a Jew with adult responsibilities. (Tradition might call her a Jewish adult, but in my experience, a bar or bat mitzvah tween is rarely even a young adult.) The service was wonderful, she did beautifully, and there was so much to celebrate.

Ah, the infamous bat mitzvah party. If the service celebrates the rite of passage, the party celebrates the bat mitzvah. Can the party celebrate the bat mitzvah if you have to wait until 8:44 p.m. for the DJ to play music, if you have to wait until 8:44 p.m. to be able to light a match for the candle lighting ceremony, or if you have to wait until 8:44 p.m. to set up the projector for the montage? In planning the party, we grudgingly maintained our observance of Shabbat and waited until 8:44 p.m., but we never thought the last hour of Shabbat as the party, let alone a celebration of the bat mitzvah. We were wrong.

By keeping Shabbat, by waiting until 8:44 p.m. for all those busy, bright, loud things, we ended up celebrating our daughter in a way we did not imagine. First and foremost, we celebrated that Judaism is meaningful to her. We have worked hard to have that be true, and we should have known that honoring it would make a difference.

Secondly, Judaism has taught her the value of family and community. Our guests and hers remarked repeatedly how having a quiet dinner with a chance to talk to people at the table, to get comfortable at the venue, and to be present for a joyous occasion actually made the party better.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, our daughter does not really like big parties. Having that hour simply to be together without the noise, the dancing, the candles, and the commotion gave us all the chance to celebrate her the whole night.

I should have known that Shabbat is its own party. That quiet, reflective nature of 25 hours without work and without busy-ness is not just a respite from the week, it is a celebration of gratitude for what we have. Instead of inviting guests to eat dinner while we waited for the end of Shabbat to start the party, I should have invited guests to experience Shabbat more deeply while we still had it, so that we could extend its party into the night’s festivities. Of course, my daughter, her friends, and our guests ended up cherishing what Shabbat gave them and carrying that into the rest of the night. We were all better for it.

The next time you wish to celebrate someone, perhaps a mother (today is Mother’s Day), think about spending some quiet downtime together before any fanfare. Before giving gifts or going out or singing, sit together in appreciation of all that you have. The fanfare will be that much nicer after. That’s the gift Shabbat taught me, again, and may we all experience that quiet gift.

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section, or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

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About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington. Prior to that he was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years and he served as the rabbi for Bet Torah in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. and Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. He’s also one of several rabbis taking part in a radio show, The Rabbi Speaks, on WDEL. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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