It is one of my very first memories.
Friday afternoon. The sun is just beginning to take on the dreamy pink hue that signals the impending sunset. The table is set for dinner, the kitchen filled with the homey scents of our habitual Friday night foods. My sisters and I gather around my mom in front of the sets of candlesticks that belonged to my great-grandmothers.
My mom strikes a match and lights the candles, the flames illuminating the darkening room. She waves her hands three times over the candles, covers her eyes, and recites the blessing – the bracha – in a whisper loud enough for us to hear, but quiet enough that there is no mistaking the reverence that she has for this moment.
Baruch a-ta Hashem, Elo-kei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam a-sher ki-dee-sha-nu bi-mitz-vo-tav
vi-tzi-va-noo li-had-leek ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are you, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with
His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the Shabbat.
The bracha complete, her hands stay over her eyes for a few moments more in silent reflection, in personal prayer. She uncovers her eyes, looks at the flames for a second longer, then kisses each of us in turn.
Shabbos has begun.
We don’t scatter like we would on a weeknight. There are no calls to make. There is nowhere to go. There is no homework to be done or tests to study for. The TV stays silent.
Instead we all sit in the living room. There are books and magazines to be read, newspapers to leaf through, conversations to be had, and dinner to eat. No one goes anywhere on Friday night unless we all go.
This night, and the day that follows, is for family.
When the sun goes down on Saturday night the phones will start to ring and plans will be made. Everyone may scatter to their separate corners and life begins moving again, just the way it should.
But for twenty-five hours, we stop.
So it was, and so it has been each and every week for all of my thirty years.
Shabbos has meant different things over the course of my life, but no matter where I have been or what I have done, it remains my constant. My true north. Those 25 hours keep me grounded when I might otherwise drift. They offer me a calm respite to the frenetic energy that so often finds its way into my days. They tether me to my family and offer me a community to which I am inextricably linked by the chains of our heritage and the richness of our history.
I light my own candles now, on candlesticks given to me by my mother-in-law on my wedding day.
Each Friday afternoon as the sun begins to set, I wave my hands over the flames, cover my eyes, and recite the bracha that I listened to my mom whisper every week for all the years I lived at home.
And when the bracha is complete my hands stay over my eyes for a few moments more, and I think about my mom and my sisters, standing in their own houses, lighting their own candles. And though we live in different cities now, as the holiness of Shabbos descends on our homes, I feel their presence as tangibly as if we were all standing together in this moment, as we did for all of my growing up years. For it is this custom, and these magical hours, that irrevocably bind us to each other and to the tapestry of Jewish women who came before us, and those who will be once we are gone.
I uncover my eyes, look at the flames a second longer, kiss my husband, and settle onto the couch.
The world feels different. Quieter. More peaceful.
I feel different. Lighter. Calmer.
Shabbos has begun.
Samantha is a lawyer, runner and pop-culture junkie living in the suburbs of New York City. She drags herself out of bed to run at dawn, does all her writing at work, and spends her nights in front of the TV with her equally television-addicted husband.
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