kiddush

The Sixth Day

When we recite Kiddush on Shabbat evening, we recall the story of the original Shabbat - how God rested on and blessed the seventh day to make it holy. But in a seemingly odd manner, we begin the story with two unconnected words "יום הששי" "the sixth day". These words are in fact the final words of the previous chapter and the concluding description of (you guessed it) the sixth day of creation - not highly appropriate for the blessing of the 7th day, Shabbat. To understand this, let's take a step back. In creating this world, one of the main motifs of which God makes use is separation  - He separates between light and darkness, between water and land, and between the 6 days of creation and Shabbat. We emulate God by following similar guidelines, living our lives with prescribes boundaries and like God, setting aside the 7th day as a day of rest, Shabbat. With one small difference: God, who knows in His infinite wisdom how to distinguish with perfect measurements between the 6th day and the 7th day, stops a hairsbreadth before Shabbat; man, in our less-than-perfect abilities cannot achieve the same precision in our distinctions.

To solve this problem, we have Tosefet Shabbat ("Adding onto Shabbat"), a commandment derived to be biblical which compensates for our inability to precisely draw the boundaries of Shabbat by adding additional time onto Shabbat, starting it a little earlier and ending it a little later. Regarding this concept, the Mei Marom asks a question: We know that God keeps Shabbat (because we learn Shabbat from God), but does God keep Tosefet Shabbat? He answers that God does not and can not keep Tosefet Shabbat, for if He were to keep it it would not be Tosefet Shabbat, but rather Shabbat itself. What emerges from this clever answer is that man actually has a unique ability entrusted to him - the ability to add on to Shabbat. And so the creation of holiness, which was previously exclusively God's domain, has now become man's Divinely-mandated responsibility as well. The commandment of Tosefet Shabbat thus becomes not merely a precaution from holiness but rather a Divine empowerment - for man to create, to transform, and to transcend the boundaries of holiness.

So on Friday evening, when we are beginning our journey of holiness and telling the story of Shabbat, we first want to remember our ability to transform the mundane world around us into holiness. And by starting with the tail-end of Friday's story, "the sixth day", that's exactly what we're doing - adding on a bit of Friday into the holiness of Shabbat.

Practically, holiness takes many forms in our lives. It can be the language we speak, the group with which we pray and study, the religious community of which we are a part. And it is important to strengthen and uphold those fortresses of holiness and keep them holy. But if we were to stop there we would be remiss, for we would be failing to actualize our greatest God-given potential - to influence the world around us. We would miss out on the opportunity to bring forth holiness beyond its boundaries, and to transcend our own boundaries of holiness. There are so many people outside the high walls of our holy community who never had the background/exposure/courage to gain entry. You have the power to extend beyond the normal limits of holiness, to welcome people into the community of holiness of which you are a part. You can share the holiness of Shabbat with people unfamiliar with Shabbat or untouched by its holiness. You have the ability and the God-given responsibility to create transcendent holiness in this world. You have the potential to be Divine.

It is likely no coincidence that the acronym of those last two words from Friday's story and the first two words of Shabbat's story ("יום הששי. ויכלו השמים") form the name of God - for that bridge into holiness, the transformation of the mundane and transcendence of the limits of holiness, that is the manifestation of Godliness in this world. And so every Friday night, when you open Kiddush with those seemingly out-of-place words, remember your God-like and God-given potential to transform the world beyond yourself and to add holiness to those around you.

The redemption of last year's kiddush story

It was a beautiful Friday night and I was in Hillel, enjoying a wonderful shabbat dinner. I believe this was the night I went over to this pair of people standing alone by the front door and welcomed them in. In turns out they were brother and sister visiting Penn, who were originally from Colombia - where my grandmother is from! The guy had been in Israel for the past few years and while not religious, they decided to stop by Hillel for a taste of Shabbat. I had them come and sit with me and we had a marvelous time. As I was getting ready to head out, a friend slipped a bottle of Kedem wine into my pocket, presumably as some sort or playful joke. I don't remember if I forgot about it or decided to play along, but I soon found myself walking outside with a bottle of wine sticking out of my pocket. My first stop was a friend's apartment, where he was hosting a meal for some of the kids from his Hebrew class (more about these Shabbat Dinners later, be"H). I made it for the tail-end, just in time to meet some of the new faces and get some leftover dessert. After a while, I exited his apartment as well, this time with two friends in tow and the aforementioned leftover desserts in my hands - a bag of cinnamon rugelach and a chocolate bobka. We next headed over to Chabad, for any post-meal words of wisdom or inspiration the Chabad rabbi would have to share with us. He didn't let us down - we stayed there for a bit, exchanging ideas, sharing l'chaims and meeting the eclectic bunch of new faces that had congregated there. After our fair share of physical and spiritual sustenance, we finally left and headed back towards our dorm building.

But the excitements wasn't about to end just yet...

On the 5-minute walk home, there were streams of people traversing the streets, going to and from various parties of the non-Shabbat variety. One particular group of guys coming towards us caught my eye, as there were 3 guys walking and one of them being pushed in a shopping cart. Not wanting to start any trouble, we kinduv ignored them as they passed, fearing they were intoxicated to the point of belligerent behavior. It was then much to our surprise when they greeted us with a jovial "Shabbat Shalom!" as they passed! So of course, we turned to them with greeting of Shabbat Shalom in return and after introducing ourselves (they all had clearly Jewish names), we started speaking. One of them asked if we had chocolate bobka - and I answered that while we couldn't offer them that, we did have chocolate rugelach and a sumptuous cinnamon bobka. After their affirmative responses, we passed out the desserts and ate them together. One of them then proceeded to ask if we had any Manischewitz wine! Much to their surprise, I pulled out the bottle of Kedem from my pocket and offered it to them. Much to all of our chagrin, we didn't have any cups and couldn't share Kiddush with them.

As we stood there, some woman who was clearly intoxicated walked by, yelling behind her at someone. Just as she passed us, she turned to us and started yelling at us. She said we had yelled something at her, but I think she was just jealous or of oneg Shabbat. Luckily, before she could spray us with her mace like she had threatened, some policeman showed up and she ran away. When we were explaining to the police what had happened and her intoxicated state, I could see them eyeing the bag of rugelach, and they gladly accepted our tasty offer as well.

As the policemen went on their way, the four guys said they had to get going as well, and started to leave. Interestingly, of of the guys, who supposedly is a famous DJ on campus, stayed around for a few minutes. It seemed like he just wanted to stay and chat with us, which we did until his friends pulled him along. Then, as they were all leaving, another two guys passed us by and, noting our Jewish attire and maybe seeing that we had been giving out something, asked us if we had any kugel. While we unfortunately couldn't fulfill their desires, we did offer them some rugelach and told them that they could get some good noodle kugel next week every Friday night at Hillel. With that, we finally made our way back to our rooms and, after a quick tisch, called it a night.

Some lessons learned:

  • Carry around rugelach and/or bobka on Friday night
  • Carry around Kedem/Manischewitz (I prefer kedem) wine on Friday night
  • ...and don't forget kiddish cups
  • When people say "Shabbat Shalom" to you, even as a joke, they often mean it, and would love if you stopped and spoke to them for a while. Btw, according to some opinions, simply saying "Shabbat Shalom" is enough to accept upon one's self the sanctity of Shabbat.
  • If you really want to make kiddush for people, they'll find you. Although sometimes you have to go walking around outside so they can find you. And sometimes you have to go to their door so they can find you. But it's them finding you.
  • Sharing the gift of Shabbat with people is one the greatest gifts you can give them. People are hungry for it - and not just for its rugelach, wine, or kugel (although those mediums can help too).

Last year's kiddush story

Some time last year, when the group was just getting started, we knew that we had to do something. We had to just get something started so we could capitalize on the initial positive energy people were showing and encourage others. So the idea I brought up was to model the Kiddush idea that we had done so beautifully in Tel Aviv two years previously in Penn. Lacking any opposition or better ideas, we decided to go for it, with the target locale being the Quad. One Friday, we baked some cookies, got some decent wine (at least better than the Kedem wine [according to some opinions]) and photocopied some copies of Kiddush. After a quick Shabbat dinner, a bunch of four of us went out, and split into two groups in the Quad. We said we would meet up in an hour at someone's room and bidding each other hatzlacha rabba (great success), off we went.

It was not an easy mission - and completely different than that which we did in Israel. For one, we didn't know who was Jewish. We tried to figure it out by the names on the door but some rooms only had first names, some were ambiguous and in some, only one roommate would be Jewish. Another complication was that Friday night seemed to be either a big partying night or a big studying night (my guess is the former) and many rooms were empty. Then, even if we knocked on the door of someone who we knew was Jewish, what do we say? While in our minds it all made sense, when actually articulating it to some random girl standing there asking who we were, it was a lot harder. Especially after a few initial failures and frustrations, it was difficult to get into the right state of mind. When we met up afterward, we recapped on our journeys over the remaining bottles of wine (which it turns out were the worst bottles of wine ever). It seemed to have gone alright - in the end we made Kiddush for a few people and met a whole bunch more. But it just wasn't the overwhelming, heartwarming, life-changing experience that I had recalled.

When discussing what made it different from my Israel experience, the main factor that came up was that it wasn't Israel. While Tel Aviv-ians might be secular, most have them have pretty strong Jewish identities and if someone actually comes to make Kiddush with them, they'd be happy to oblige. Not so much in Penn- where many of the thousands of secular Jews unfortunately don't have much in terms of a Jewish identity. Some people we met that night who were definitely Jewish didn't even really know what Kiddush was. It also must have been weirder for them to see some religious people offering to make Kiddush, unlike Israel where at least a good third of the country makes Kiddush Friday nights. And while in Israel it seemed so natural, in the Quad we felt like missionaries. Maybe that's one of the [many] painful downfalls of not being in your own land - that's it's often perceived as odd to attempt to share the beauties of your religious with your own co-religionists. In any event, for all its downsides, the night was a success - both in terms of meeting and sharing Shabbat with some Jews, and in terms of showing ourselves and our fellow committed cohorts that we were serious about doing that. And while it wasn't the perfect idea, it did helps us gain much insight into a lot of the issues that exist on campus and helped prepare us for future ideas.

It was not until six months later that I had the perfect redemptive end to this story...

The prelude to the introduction to the redemption of last year's kiddush story

This past Friday night something truly beautiful and magnificent happened to me and two friends. But in order to truly understand the beauty and magnificence of this story, you'd have to know what happened that fateful Shabbat in Tel Aviv, tibane v'tikonen, as well as in the Quad that festive Friday night last year. So I'll start with the Tel Aviv story, which is what inspired much of what happened since then.

In between high school and college, I studied abroad in Israel for the year, in Yeshivat haKotel. They had a practice that every year on Parshat Zachor, the week before Purim, the Yeshiva as a whole would go to Tel Aviv for a Shabbaton. So, on one fine Friday afternoon, around 250 people trekked up to Tel Aviv, including the Israelis, kollel families, rebbeim, chutznikim and the head of the yeshiva and his famly. We all stayed at different locations (we 'yeshiva bochrim' stayed on the floor in some empty school), and on our way to our meeting point, we danced together through the streets of Tel Aviv. After meeting up and dancing in kikar Rabin, we split off into different groups and went to daven kabbalat Shabbat with and liven up various little batei kinesset in the area. Then we all had dinner together in some shul.

And then it began.

Following dinner, they split us into groups of four people, gave us a bottle or two of wine and sent us off. Three Israeli friends of mine and myself started walking down the streets. We wandered into different apartment buildings and knocked on some random doors. To be fair, only around two-thirds of the time did people answer, but when they did answer, almost all of them went well. None of them were 'dati' per se but they all were so pleased to be making kiddush with us and some even joined in. Oh right, that's what we were doing - making kiddush. But that's the beauty of it, we were just meeting people, over a delicious cup of Israeli wine and some words of sanctification. And when we would knock on the doors, we said simply that we were some guys coming by to say Shabbat Shalom, to spend some time and to share kiddush with them. And so it wasn't about getting them to do a mitzvah, or getting them to say a certain formula; while that was the means for the encounter, the point was that heart to heart encounter in and of itself.

And people loved it - they appreciated it, they would stand respectfully when we made kiddush and they were more than happy to engage in conversation with us. Some of them were single twenty-somethings, some were elderly ladies and one consisted of a large family gathering, but they were all Jewish and they were all overjoyed by this display of care. We were welcomed into one young couple's apartment where they were watching T.V. over dinner and so when we got to asking them if they wanted us to make kiddush for them, they asked whether they should turn off their T.V. In a beautiful flow of events, we said that it didn't really matter, and we said kiddush together over the hum of the T.V. - it was perhaps one of the most special kiddushim that I ever made. And that family gathering- oh man! It turns out one of the patriarch's son's and his wife had won some 'The Real Life'-esqu show, and the Israeli's I was with new that they were famous, and the family couldn't get over the fact that I was from NYC. We ended up talking to them for around half-an-hour, drinking a little (water) and we just chilled. Finally, after a few hours walking and talking around, when we finished the wine and/or the cups (we helped out a bit on our own ;-), we made out way back to some shul for the tail-end of a tisch.

In retrospect, that was perhaps one of the greatest Shabbatot of my life - getting to share the beauty, peace, and friendliness of Shabbat and Judaism with Jews in Tel Aviv who thought true Judaism was only for Chareidim who hated them. And here we were, dati yeshiva students, going out of our way to meet these simple, but yet so holy Jews, in a meeting of minds, faces, and hearts. And that's what was so powerful about it, the simple but yet deep encounter that occurred, brought about by the sanctity of Shabbat, and powerfully impacting on all parties involved. For them - they said it was amazing to see people like us doing this and they truly appreciated it, and for me - to see the way they responded to this presentation of Judaism and how much they respected, honored and loved the Shabbat and its messengers. It was from that Shabbat onwards, that I began to dream of living in Tel Aviv (anyone wanna join me?) and being able to share with people those feelings of achdut (brothergood), mutual respect, and a love for Judaism.

It also inspired me enough to try some of these methods out on my own... For more on that, stay tuned for the next installment of the series - last year's story (a.k.a. the introduction to the redemption of last year's kiddush story)