When my family and I arrived in Israel in 1996, among the many adjustments we needed to make, was to the loss of Sunday as a day off. Friday, at first, seemed a poor substitute. After all, in the U.S., we left work early on Friday, according to the calendar. That said, there were certainly times when the transition from weekday to Shabbat was via a three minute shower. Eventually, in Israel, I came to value my Fridays and the loss of Sunday was more than fairly compensated.
What initiated the change was realizing that living in Israel didn’t necessarily equate to regularly visiting the Kotel (the Western Wall). As with many things for me, instituting a new pattern was a precursor to changing behavior. Friday morning was a natural time, in that I didn’t have any pressing commitments afterward. There started a routine that continues to this day; of praying with a very special minyan (prayer quorum) with the sunrise. Then, coming home at an earlier hour provides opportunities for study, contemplation, and preparation for Shabbat.
Our Sages teach that one who prepares on Friday eats on Shabbat (Talmud, Avoda Zara 3a.) We name the days of the week in Hebrew, first day, second day, and so on, all pointing to Shabbat. Furthermore, the days themselves have an intrinsic association in that Sunday, Monday, Tuesday belong to the previous Shabbat (one can make Havdala, the ceremony demarking the distinction between Shabbat and the weekday up until Tuesday sunset) and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday belong to the coming Shabbat.
The Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik used to say that the true mark of a pious Jew is not that he or she is a shomer Shabbat (a Sabbath observer) but is a shomer Erev Shabbat (one who properly prepares on the eve of the Sabbath.) There are certainly physical preparations that are necessary to properly enjoy Shabbat, but the mental and spiritual preparations are no less important.
In addition to praying at the Kotel, a seemingly small additional decision completed the transformation from Friday to Erev Shabbat: I started to go out for breakfast with my wife, Debbie. We found this time – while the kids were at school - an oasis for catching up, for decompressing, and for re-connecting before the rush of Shabbat preparations. We came to treasure this time so much that when we missed it, Shabbat was not the same. We have maintained this ritual for over fifteen years and so, when Debbie’s employment started requiring her to work Friday mornings, we moved our date to an early afternoon brunch.
There are times when the calendar changes the nature of the day. This year, in Jerusalem, Shushan Purim fell on Erev Shabbat. The challenges of fulfilling all the commandments, including a festive meal with ample alcoholic beverages, gave us the opportunity to transition from what our tradition teaches is the holiest day, to the Holy day. In less than two weeks, Erev Pesach falls on Erev Shabbat, and with the extra pressures of eliminating the last of the leaven and organizing the Seder, we might lose sight that G-d is truly there in the details, in all the preparations, for the body, as well as the soul.
Then there was last week, when the Jerusalem Marathon fell on Erev Shabbat. What an amazing opportunity it was to be out in the sun, rain, and even hail. The appreciation that came out of participating in the 10 kilometer event, for that week, became part of my preparation for Shabbat. For that Erev Shabbat, I was able join together with my fellow Jerusalemites and others from around the world in a unifying experience, to revel in our Holy City, and to realize just how fortunate we are.
Rabbi Yehoshua Looks is Managing Director of HaOhel Institutions in Jerusalem, now launching a new venture, Threshold, fostering Jewish Educational Entrepreneurship.