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To Beeswax or Not to Beeswax

To Beeswax or Not to Beeswax

Learning how to make Shabbat


In the beginning, there were flea markets, farm stands and country fairs. My understanding of “rest” was a departure from mundanities—a short span during which I would neither change diapers nor grade term papers. I had no concept that using money, driving a car, sorting items or other related behaviors were inconsistent with Shabbat observance. As for the boost that Shabbat’s weekly gift could bestow upon my soul, I was oblivious.

Like many men and women of my generation, I was caught up in proving myself, and in contributing my share to our yuppie-styled household. One successful academic publication begot more. A teaching award necessitated that I earn the next higher honor. Also, the maintenance of nodes on my professional network (at a time before Twitter and Facebook) required lots of phone calls, all of which I deemed worthy.

I was caught up in proving myself

Consequently, I found myself rising in my profession, but burned out. So, I took to gardening. Without hired help, I turned one-third of an acre into a wildflower sanctuary (at least the skunks and hedgehogs appreciated that I did away with our lawn). At the same time, I tried to “rest” by going full-throttle on earning an herbal medicine degree. My children’s early years are marked by the trauma of all sorts of tinctures brewing on counters otherwise filled by normal gear such as cookie jars or sippy cups. For long months, my second-oldest wouldn’t even venture into our kitchen, so strong was the smell of the healing potions I was making.

In balance, I exercised, hard. Swimming was a mile or an hour, whichever came first. Biking could take an afternoon. Hiking was relegated to woodland walks that included steep inclines. I was determined to give no half-measure to my “relaxation time.”

Accordingly, when I painted, I spread three canvases on the floor at a time, and moved my pigments from one picture the next. Likewise, basket weaving for me was almost always an endeavor consisting of fashioning several containers at once. Any of the energies I directed to refurbishing myself were almost always of the unbridled sort.

Whereas neither my soul nor my body felt fully restored from my efforts, I did make a lot of vessels, wall art, and plant-based remedies. I gave those away, as well as huge bouquets cut from my yard, and goodies which had been too wonderful to have left behind in the small towns I frequented on Saturdays.

The result was that my friends ran when they saw me coming up their driveways laden with gifts; my children and my husband saw little of me unless it involved them holding a rake, cleaning a brush, or otherwise getting involved in my projects; and I became increasingly exhausted.

Difficult circumstances fortuitously forced me to further change

Then G‑d stepped in. Not surprisingly, I was tuckered out and unable to deal with a series of difficult events. I called and complained to a local spiritual leader. He asked me how my Shabbat observance was. I asked him about the relevance. He responded that there was nothing more relevant.

So, I decided to try to keep Shabbat the way I did everything else in my life. I got busy. I made candles. I bought tapers others had made from beeswax. I sampled all manners of organic and “regular” wine and grape juice. I invited lots and lots of friends to bless the challahs on our table. I cooked up gourmet versions of traditional Shabbat food.

But I missed the point.

The difference between “beautifying a mitzvah” and what I was attempting to do was vast. Shabbat observance requires intentionality. Shabbat observance requires guided understanding.

Some years later, difficult circumstances fortuitously forced me to further change. During a touch-and-go pregnancy, I spent five and a half months on bed rest, and made sixteen hospital trips. I had no choice but to slow down. Candle-lighting was no longer about the aesthetic pleasure of my lights, but about getting out of bed long enough to recite blessings. Rest was no longer about changing my activities (I had to remain prone day and night), but about changing the inside of me. Shabbat was no longer about what I could do, but about what I was willing to be open to receive.

Flash forward a decade. We’re now living a Torah-observant life. Internally as well as externally. My family has even been given the added merit of relocating to Jerusalem. Yet, the hours leading up to Shabbat are still crazy in our home.

However, the nature of my insanity—and, following that, the nature of my family’s boondoggles—has changed. We make do with flimsy, Israeli-style plastic plates and cutlery, and rely on the beauty of our Shabbat songs to adorn our table. We no longer are caught up in the literal frills and bows of our clothing, but in the degree to which we are beautifying our day by helping the oldest members of our synagogue, by helping the youngest members of our synagogue (especially when their parents are overwhelmed with other of the youngest members), and by trying to concentrate when we pray.

It has taken years to truly grasp the meaning of “rest”

At home, we implore our guests to share our soups and salads, but have for the most part stopped fussing over whether or not the recipes are publishable and whether or not our interior decorating meets other people’s standards.

Rather, we emphasize the importance of making bridges among people and on sharing Torah, even when, given the gaps in our learning, we resort to reading printouts from websites like this one or from books, presented in translation, by accessible rabbis.

It has taken years to truly grasp the meaning of “rest.” Shabbat has transformed, for me, from the end of our week to its center. I have learned, as well, that this release, more than any flurry of activity, brings me home.

KJ Hannah Greenberg’s writing has appeared in numerous venues worldwide, including in: Fallopian Falafel, Horizons, Mishpacha Magazine, Poetry Super Highway, Scribblers on the Roof, The Blue New Yorker, The Jerusalem Post and The New Vilna Review. She is the author of Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting (French Creek Press, 2010).

Photo Credit: Yiftach Paltrowitz
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Jamie Duncan Brampton May 24, 2013

To Beeswax or not to beeswax Very nice post. I feel the same way - Fridays are crazy! and I live alone with a little dog. I too am a far from perfect servant, but love the feeling of bonelessness that Shabbos brings when the meals is finished and I reach out and call family members. I usually reserve Saturdays for reading Torah on my kindle. And no! It's just an ordinary kindle - no kindle fire on Shabbat! :-) Reply

KJ Hannah Greenberg Jerusalem April 28, 2013

gratitude Dear Hadassah, Eva, Esther, Malka and Anonymous:

Thank-you for your kind words. I am an imperfect servant of Hashem and as such as grateful when any of my assemblages of words can add to Am Yisrael's trumpeting of Hashem's glory and to our appreciation of all the kindnesses he does for us.

Hadassah NMB April 23, 2013

great writing I enjoyed your article immensely. Just reading about your exploits was tiring. No wonder you were getting exhausted! Keep writing and inspiring. (It doesn't have to earn the Pulitzer Prize or any other award!) Reply

Eva Bogomolny Israel April 23, 2013

Shabbos During the week we experience time. On Shabbos we feel the eternity. Reply

EstherAsna Montreal April 23, 2013

beautiful very inspiring - thank you for writing and publishing this! May H-shem bless you to continue in your spiritual journey with revealed good! Reply

Malka Ft. Myers, Florida April 22, 2013

love it! your writing is refreshing, and your message is hearty and heartfelt! I've never worried about designer decor, but I could worry less about "publishable" recipes...and we do plenty of divrei torah from printouts! We just could be "soul sisters" from the same root-neshama from Matan Torah! thanks! Reply

Anonymous philly April 22, 2013

yes!!!! I have found that sharing shabbos is key. and i like your thought about the informality of it Reply

KJ Hannah Greenberg March 9, 2010

realities and pickled herring Thanks folks for the kind words about the essay. As for the experience, If The Boss had wanted me to be born frum (Torah observant), that would have been the case. I no more lament my path than I do my eye color. In fact, I try to joyously embrace the life that has been given to me. That celebration does not remediate the calories in pickled herring, however. Reply

Anonymous Manti, UT March 8, 2010

a new generation from my experience, I learned that part of the problem is for women who were not instructed in the home by observant parents. All the more reason to teach and train the younger generation(s). Reply

Inge Reisinger March 8, 2010

yes now you reached really your Shabbat. what a long way it took and what a great feeling you have now. Reply

Anonymous Cluculz Lake, BC March 7, 2010

To Beeswax or not to beeswax Wonderful article! Wonderful talent! Reply

Anonymous Manti, UT March 7, 2010

nail on the head! This is so much like me it's frightening; I, too, have had to learn how to celebrate Shabbat in my heart and not just more competing with myself or anyone else! Reply

Anonymous montreal March 7, 2010

very beautiful article!! Inspiring!! Reply

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