Shabbat descends on Jerusalem gently. Just as the sky darkens on Friday evening, there is the sound of the siren to usher it in. Traffic noises become muted, and something mystical takes place.
We have been preparing for the Sabbath queen for a few days. Special foods have been bought and prepared, we have laundered snowy white tablecloths, and our best clothes are laid out.
In my suburb of Beit Hakerem, a mixed religious and secular neighborhood, the streets begin to come alive. Through many open or uncurtained windows, you can see women lighting Shabbat candles. Soon after, families walk toward their synagogue. Even non-observant families take advantage of the winding down of the week to walk their dogs or go to the playground with their children.
Shabbat in Jerusalem: What is it like?
They say that the world is re-souled every Shabbat. According to a medieval sage, “The world that was created in six days was a world without a soul.” That is why we read in Exodus 31:17 “On the seventh day He rested – “vayinnafesh”; “nefesh” means a soul.
Those who observe Shabbat are said to gain a neshamah yetairah, an additional soul. Mystics regard Shabbat, especially in Jerusalem, as a wedding between the Creator and Israel. When we recite “Thou art One,” we parallel the consummation of the marriage, uniting the two partners.
Shabbat morning is a time for walking and seeing “the 10 measures of beauty” that came to Jerusalem. They are not always as obvious as in more scenic cities like Paris and Florence.
Usually, you come across them unexpectedly. You may be in a mundane street and suddenly you turn a corner and there are children playing under leafy trees, ivy trailing from a clay pot on someone’s fence, and a patch of brilliant blue sky. Your heart contracts for a moment, and you find that you are smiling.
A wonderful day of rest is Shabbat in Jerusalem. No public transportation is operating, so the streets are quieter, the air purer. You eat tasty meals, maybe study a little, and have time to talk, sing, rest, and recharge your batteries physically and spiritually.
Then, once more the shadows lengthen, turn indigo, and stars begin to appear in a black, velvet sky. We say farewell to Shabbat with the havdalah prayer, which makes a distinction between the holy and the profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between this holy day and the six days of work.
We bid farewell with light and wine and perfume from fragrant spices. There is a custom to touch your index fingers to the remaining drops of havdalah wine and then brush them across your forehead and pockets, symbolizing the wish for enlightenment, wisdom, and prosperity for the coming week.
Shabbat is over. The TV is turned on to catch up on the news. The telephone rings, the buses start running. There are theaters and cinemas to visit, friends to meet at coffee houses. Jerusalem unwinds itself, and tomorrow there will be a pearly dawn to start a new week of work and play. Everyone prays it will be a week of peace. ❖
The writer is the author of 14 published books. email@example.com