Getting Ready for Sabbath (Guest Post by Beth Kissileff)
The things I am not doing while I am writing this include turning on all the lights in my house I want lit so I can use them in the next 25 hours, filling up one electric pot of hot water and plugging it in so we can have hot drinks during the sabbath, unplugging the lights in my refrigerator so I don’t inadvertently turn them on when I open the door, and cooking the food I want my family to eat for all three sabbath meals. Then, I need to finish up all the work related tasks from the week that are on my to-do list so that I can enter into Shabbat relaxed, knowing I’ve finished things I need to.
But that is the other great thing about the way I observe the sabbath, without electronics or driving or spending money: things that are not done now will just have to get done in the next week. That is how life is. I am able to step off the treadmill that propels me to feel I just need to send one more pitch to an editor or one more email, or make another phone call. I can feel that whatever I have done up to this point, at sundown Friday, is what I am going to do and that’s it; I am free to relax for the next 25 hours.
I love knowing that I am free to be myself and be with the people around me for that designated time, and that I am not lazy or slacking off if I refrain from being productive for a day. Rather, I am resting in honor of creation. I am humble for that time, knowing that anything I create is insignificant in comparison with the creation of the universe. There is something so healthy about that acknowledgement of our ultimate smallness and unimportance in the scheme of the world, while at the same time also realizing that our actions and the way we lead our lives can have an impact.
I think it is the sense of freedom that I treasure most on the sabbath, that I am free to spend time with my kids while none of us are staring at screens or running off to activities or needing to do errands. We eat and go to synagogue and take walks and visit friends and host guests, but mostly it is a time we interact with each other . For these precious few hours, we are able to take the time to listen to each other and focus on those in our presence without looking something up on Google or sending the screenshot to someone else. We are just with the people around us.
I didn’t realize when I was starting college and decided to keep the sabbath at this level of stringency that it would end up having such a huge impact on my life.
I decide where I live based on the sabbath community I find there. This gives me and my children an instant group of friends wherever we move, which has been a tremendous boon to our social lives. We connect with others with shared values who live nearby. I know that I want my kids to be with others who observe similarly, if not at the exact level of stringency, and that, too, has influenced them. In looking for colleges, my kids want to know there will be others to observe the sabbath with. It has been a boon to us on college tours to be able to meet kids and connect with them because they also share our sabbath commitment.
Rarely have I felt I am missing out on something because of the sabbath and its restrictions. In fact, I believe I have gained, in the sense of freedom, stress-release, relaxation and creation of community, far more than I have given up, by removing myself from the world of activity and building for 25 hours, from sundown Friday until after dark on Saturday evening.
Not everyone can, or wants, to observe the sabbath as I do. Anyone who wants to try can do things in small increments – invite guests to your home and make food slightly fancier and more festive than you would ordinarily; don’t drive for all or part of a sabbath; refrain from electronic screens for a portion of your weekend. Study a sacred text, or join with a group for prayer or another meaningful spiritual activity.
There are many ways to involve yourself in the sabbath, and for me personally the traditional Jewish observances have imparted great meaning to my life.
Beth Kissileff is the author of the novel Questioning Return and the editor of the anthology Reading Genesis. She is currently teaching at the University of Pittsburgh; her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Michigan Quarterly Review, Haaretz, Tablet, the Forward and the New York Jewish Week, as well as other publications. Visit her online at
In A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles,” Marianne Williamson writes that “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” In preparation for the launch of my new book, For Sabbath’s Sake (coming out on October 1st), I asked prominent authors, theologians, bloggers, and ministers to “let their own light shine,” by writing on the joys and challenges of sabbath practices. During this guest blog series, these writers will help us learn from one another, and, in turn, give us permission to explore our own sabbath journeys.
I want to hear from you, too!
Take a photo of yourself—or a selfie—while engaging in a sabbath practice (rest, worship, or a community gathering). Share the photo on social media and include #ForSabbathsSake in your post. Give yourself and others permission to enjoy the gift of sabbath.