The Shabbat Primer
Published and Copyrighted (c) by
Machon Chaya Mushka
8 Machanaim St.
In the U.S.A.
Machon Chaya Mushka
750 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, New York 11213
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portion thereof, in any form, without prior permission, in writing, from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages.
In honor of the first yartzeit of Nechoma Greismano.b.m., we are publishing The Shabbat Primer. Among her many other projects, Nechoma was writing a book with Chana Ne'eman which was meant to give down to earth guidance to women new to keeping Shabbat. Sadly, she passed away on the 23rd of Shvat, 5752 at the age of 39, leaving her family and her beautiful life's work before her plans were fulfilled.
Even though the book remained incomplete, we now present you with Chapters III and V, which were already written. They stand on their own, filled with Nechoma Greisman's warm and practical insight and helpful advice. After the "Table of Contents," we have placed a section entitled What Was Meant to Be Included in this Book. This was the plan for the larger book, showing the tremendous breadth of subjects that Nechoma had hoped to cover.
Shmuel Greisman has worked selflessly to bring his wife's writing to the public. He has worked on every aspect of this project with total devotion. May this work bring zchus to the neshoma of Nechoma o.b.m. bas Mordechai Sheyichyeh, and may he be comforted by the One who comforts and blessed to greet the face of Moshiach revealed now.
We would like to acknowledge Laya Klein who worked tirelessly to organize this project. We thank Uri Kaploun and Chana Rachel Schusterman who edited the manuscript. Yitzchok Turner is responsible for the layout and typography, and Avrohom Weg designed the cover. We thank Yonah Avtzon who masterfully put it all together and made this volume a reality.
Machon Chaya Mushka
22 Shevat, 5753
5th Yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka o.b.m.
For two years, whenever her time permitted it, Nechoma o.b.m. and I collaborated on a book about keeping Shabbat. Aimed primarily at beginners - women, men, singles, marrieds - it was to be a guide to the practicalities of observing this precious, but complex mitzva.
The following chapters would have been at the heart of our book. True, the insights of experience of many resource women contributed greatly to its content. But the guiding soul was Nechoma's. She brought to the project her profound knowledge, life experience, enthusiasm, and utter devotion. These, one might say, were the prerequisites for the job, the credentials which made her an "authority." But her special contribution lay in her unique, typically Nechoma qualities - her humor, tolerance, all-embracing warmth, and great common sense.
I brought to the project some writing-editing experience and all the questions of a beginner. Essentially, though, I was Nechoma's second pair of hands. While she mended, washed dishes, chopped vegetables, and poured out her ideas, I scribbled down notes, later to be written up, tossed about with Nechoma, and finally polished.
Unfortunately, our book was destined to remain unfinished. But I have no regrets. Learning with Nechoma - just being in her presence - was a great privilege and joy.
Through the chapters that we have here, Nechoma's personality shines through everywhere. She advises on handling shy guests, scheduling family laundry, involving small children, making Shabbat as a single person, and many other topics. But the section I most looked forward to seeing she never wrote. It would have come at the very end of the book, and she entitled it, "Your Will Only?"
Nechoma knew in every fiber of her being that there is One Whose will always comes first, and she ran to fulfill each of His mitzvot. She was all of one piece. She had absolute integrity. And her radiance lit thousands of hearts.
May these chapters serve as a memorial and a blessing. If they help to enrich your Shabbat observance, that is just what she wished.
Once there was a book I searched for everywhere, but could not find. This, I hope, is the book.
I never intended to write it. In fact, if you had suggested to me two years ago that I publish a guide to Shabbat observance, I would, like Mother Sarah, have laughed incredulously. "What, me? And aren't there enough books about Shabbat around already?" After all, most of the greatest minds and souls Judaism ever produced over thousands of years have contributed volumes on the subject. But this very abundance, I soon found, is part of the problem of beginning Shabbat observance today.
That problem became my personal concern just a few years ago when I discovered that I did not know all there was to know about "making Shabbat." As I grew more serious about my Jewish studies and practices, as I experienced the authentic Shabbat in Torah-observant settings, I came to realize that "The Day of the Queen" involves far more than lighting candles, eating a special dinner, and - possibly - going to synagogue. It is really a whole world which is created anew every week, and for very good reasons Jews over the centuries have invested tremendously in it. Resources which other nations pour into a great artistic tradition, individual career advancement, or a first-rate technological society, Torah-centered Judaism invests in Shabbat, and adds to it all joy, love, and complete devotion. I never imagined Shabbat could be so involving - and so demanding. I was captivated; I knew I wanted Shabbat in my life always. I set out to learn how to do it.
Almost from the start, however, my search was frustrated. As a result of my invitations to observant homes, I saw that a great deal of knowledge and experience lay behind the seemingly effortless Shabbat joy. My hostesses were glad to explain some of the procedures to me, but, as I came to realize, what I needed was something more like an apprenticeship or a four-year B.A. course. I was reluctant to ask any busy woman if I could hang around her kitchen every Shabbat for a year, so I sought help from books.
As I read, I soon discovered that my sources divided into three general categories, none of which gave me what I needed. In one category were the authoritative halachic works which set forth all the talmudic minutiae of Shabbat fulfillment. They left me feeling overwhelmed, gasping, not knowing where to begin. In the second category fell the uplift tracts. Some, like Aryeh Kaplan's Sabbath Day of Eternity, were beautifully written and genuinely inspiring, but they also gave me little help in learning how to actually do Shabbat. Finally, in the third category, were a few practical guides to Shabbat observance; however, they either did not go far enough in assisting me to make the full traditional Shabbat I sought, or else they focused almost exclusively on the synagogue-ritual aspect of Shabbat observance. In each of the three categories were some valuable books, and we recommend them in our bibliography. Nevertheless, there was no one source which offered a beginner in the ways of a traditional Shabbat enough detailed help.
In addition, some troublesome personal problems arose. As I found out later, this was far from unusual. A beginner may well encounter difficulties with Shabbat observance which neither the talmudic tomes, nor the uplift tracts, nor the existing practical guides admit to - problems of boredom, perhaps, or of hostile family members, or of sabotage by the children.
As my circle of both novice and experienced Shabbat observers widened, I found that many other people shared my quest - and my frustrations. As a result of my talks with them, I began consciously to formulate the questions and problems of a person searching for a way to create the traditional Shabbat. I had the questions; what remained was to find the content. Obviously, it was not to be found in the available books. What I needed was a good teacher and "translator," someone with the knowledge, experience, involvement, and grace necessary to explain things in terms that someone with my background could understand. If I were really lucky, she might also be warm-hearted, humorous, and deeply inspiring.
I found my ideal teacher and translator in the person of Nechoma Greisman. That it happened as it did was...well, as Nechoma would say, "Nothing is a coincidence."
In conclusion, then, as I have said, writing this book was not part of my life plan. But, like many another unplanned baby, it has become a blessing. May The Shabbat Primer prove to be the book you have also been searching for.
In contrast to Chana, I sometimes think this book has been evolving within me my whole life. Even in my earliest childhood, the experience of sharing Shabbat with our fellow Jews was absolutely central to me.
My parents risked long years of imprisonment, perhaps even their lives, to keep Shabbat. Whereas many of their acquaintances in their native Russia succumbed to the state's fierce anti-religious policies, my parents struggled to keep every aspect of their Jewishness, It was very deep within them, after all. My mother's father was a disciple of the famed "Chafetz Chaim." My father, a rabbi, was educated in the underground Chabad cheders of Russia. Ever since my parents arrived in the U.S. just after World War II, my father has been baal koreh (Torah reader) for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, in Brooklyn.
My parents imbued all six of their children with a great love for Torah and the mitzvot. But especially dear to them - and us - was Shabbat. Because the way of Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidism has always been to reach out to other Jews, nearly every Shabbat my parents offered their hospitality to guests, many of them non-observant. Invited well in advance, invited at the last minute, or completely self-invited, they were always expected and welcome. For the non-observant guests especially, Shabbat with us was a potent experience; they often remarked that they'd "never imagined it could be so wonderful." And for us, Shabbat became just that much more precious because of them.
As I grew to be a teenager, I encountered more and more Jews everywhere who wished "somehow" to bring more Yiddishkeit into their lives. Whether it was on a New York subway, in a camp, a school room, an institute for women beginners to Judaism, my own home, or an Israeli women's prison; in New York, Minnesota, Florida, California, Safed, Jerusalem - wherever I have traveled and lived - I have found this desire.
When I imagined myself in these people's footsteps, though, I began to see how daunting the problem could be. Their longing to become more observant was great, but they often felt overwhelmed. It seemed such a huge hurdle - all that knowledge and experience to acquire, all that patience to develop. Where should they even start?
A logical starting point - and the one which in fact most beginners choose - is Shabbat. A central mitzva to Judaism, it is also both available to everybody and personally fulfilling. When Jews think of where they want to be, it is usually the Shabbat world they long for.
By now, then, Shabbat and the problems of transition to a new way of life were merging in my mind. I was meeting, counseling, and hostessing hundreds of seeking Jews, but I feared I was not giving them the detailed, unhurried help they needed. For my Shabbat guests I always wanted to provide a pleasant, non-pressured experience, never a heavy cramming session. G-d forbid they should leave our home gasping, "Oh, that Shabbat with the Greismans..." And yet I hated to leave them floundering when they sought my help for all their Shabbatot to come.
I began to wish I could offer all the seeking Jews I met a good guidebook to read, one which would take them step-by-step at their own comfortable pace and would always be available for review. I couldn't find one, however, which I felt was sufficiently faithful to Torah, detailed, and yet suited to beginners' home observance. I wished such a book existed, but with all the demands of my busy life, I never seriously considered writing it myself. Then, one day, Chana approached me with the idea of our doing just such a guide together. My response was, "How did you know....?"
But, of course, you know by now that I don't believe in coincidences. A great Hassidic master, the Baal Shem Tov, taught that nothing, not even the most seemingly insignificant event, happens by chance. How much less coincidental, then, is the meeting of two women, both inspired by the same cause, to help other Jews. But that's only as it should be. According to another of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings, whenever two Jews meet, there is a "G-dly wink" of Divine providence. From that meeting, then, something of real spiritual benefit should result.
In writing this book, I share with Chana the hope that our different, but complementary experiences will contribute practical help to all of you who are considering a life of greater and more fulfilling Shabbat observance.
(Back to text) Keter Shem Tov, "Hosafot" ("Addenda"): (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Kehot Publishing Society, 1972), sec. 119ff.
(Back to text) Ibid., sec. 126.