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13 Steps to a Holy Day

Lessons from one family’s Shabbat ritual

Illustration Credit: Shabbat Shalom by Joani Rothenberg

Our family welcomes the Sabbath on Friday night after sundown with several friends. I’ve done the same thing more than a thousand times. But it doesn’t feel repetitive. It feels grounding. Over time I’ve learned the power of adopting practices and doing them consistently.

1. Winding Down: During the day at work, I know I’m heading toward the Shabbat sundown deadlines. So I finish up whatever I can, and I communicate with colleagues on my progress. If something’s not done, I commit to finishing it the next week. Because at sundown, it’s all going to stop.

2. Tidying Our Space: I’m already feeling overwhelmed by then, and housework is always at the bottom of my priority list, so this is no deep clean. There is a semblance of order and calm that descends on our space. It soothes all our nerves.

3. Cooking for the Sabbath: This does much to assuage my guilt that I’m not creating dinners worthy of Martha Stewart all week long. I always make plenty of food. Often we host another family or a gaggle of guests.

4. Wearing White: As sundown approaches, we put on our whites, or “Shabbat shirts,” and look sharp. This simple act in itself has a kind of alchemical magic. There have been many nights when I thought I was too exhausted to even enjoy the Sabbath meal. Then I’ve donned my lacy white top and silky white shirt and felt totally transformed and renewed.

5. Making Music: We put on some rocking music for the occasion and dance and sing a little. The purpose is to literally change our vibration, our frequency, so we can open to a deeper level of renewal and healing.

6. Lighting Candles: During the candle lighting, we ”send” the light to those in need of healing around the planet and to our loved ones far away.

7. Blessing the Children: All the adults present find one or more kids, place their hands on their heads, and say a spontaneous blessing.

8. Blessing the Wine: We fill the cup to overflowing intentionally to signify all the goodness that is always present. And we go around the table, each holding the cup and sharing out loud something we are grateful for from the week.

9. Hand Washing: As we wash our hands, we ask, “Is there anything we need to let go of from the week to become fully present to Shabbat time?"

10. Remarrying Every Week: My husband, Joe, and I take our wedding rings off and remarry each other. I place the ring on Joe’s finger while he places the ring on mine. Then, with the same Hebrew phrase we shared under our wedding canopy, we lock eyes and each says to the other, “With this ring, you become sacred to me.”

11. Blessing the Bread: Now it is time to break into the challah, which is warm from the oven. Everyone touches the bread or touches someone who is touching the bread, so once again we are all connected. After the blessing, we break chunks off with our hands and feed each other.

12. Enjoying the Feast: Now we get to dive into the meal, as all is blessed. Tonight there is nothing to be done: including the dishes.

13. The Day of Rest: I linger in bed. Then the kids come in for a snuggle. Later we get up and make challah French toast out of last night’s bread. Then we lounge a bit more, grab the dog’s leash, and head out for a family hike with the dog. After the hike, we eat leftovers for lunch. Then it’s time for one of my favorite weekly rituals: the Saturday afternoon Shabbat nap.

Shabbat ends when the sun goes down. The tradition is to wait until we can see and count three stars in the sky—to be sure the sun has really set. Then we do a ritual of separation, marking the transition from Shabbat to the world of the week.

Adapted from Secrets of the 7th Day: How Everyone Can Find Renewal Through the Wisdom and Practices of the Sabbath, White Cloud Press.