Friday, April 3, 2009


It’s Friday morning. I awake early. The pattern for the day is in front of me. Strip the beds. Dust the furniture. Vacuum the rugs. Clean the window blinds. Wash the kitchen floor. Launder the bed linens. Air the house if the weather is warm enough. Put it all back together again and STOP.

It used to be that this routine was kind of haphazard and in its haphazard-ness, I could spend large amounts of everyday polishing, fixing, re-arranging, cleaning, scrubbing, sorting, re-cycling and putting away an inordinate amount of STUFF.

It was a self-inflicted tyranny of sorts, this need to maintain order, to create organized space, to satisfy myself that I had at least fulfilled some reason for being on the planet on any particular day – after all, at day’s end if I hadn’t done anything else of worth at least there was a clean stack of towels in the bathroom. And isn’t hard work salvific?? A tyranny of sorts – against myself and those I love - - because I tend to get angry at the people who mess up my order!

Enter the Shabbat Queen. Some five years ago now, I began to celebrate Shabbat, learning, little by little, how to rest without the inner tyrant threatening to undo me. Imagine learning that rest is a divine thing to do! I am a non-Jew so there is a lot for me to learn. My rabbi is patient. “Don’t take on the whole thing at once” she says. “Start with something manageable. Find just one thing you want to change.”

Well, five years later, I still relieve a lot of tension by cleaning the house. But now it amounts to whatever I can do on Friday morning as though I were preparing for an honored guest. And then it stops – and I spend time after school with my granddaughter. I take a nice hot shower and leave the house in plenty of time to be in the sanctuary well before Shabbat evening services begin. The evening quiet is broken by soft wishes of “Shabbat shalom.” The candles offer their silent light and we welcome Shabbat together. My breath slows down, my shoulders relax. I am welcomed into a space in time where non-doing is everything. Sometimes I weep with sheer joy and relaxation at the blessed freedom Shabbat brings.

It is taking a long time for me to relinquish the less than compassionate attitudes I carry with me from a long tradition of “idle hands make mischief” and “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I learn from Abraham Joshua Heschel: To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have so easily been turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence from external obligations, a day when we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow man and the forces of nature – is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?

I need this weekly re-setting of my internal value system. It helps me to look upon the world with softer eyes.

Vicki Hanjian

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