There are many things that make being Orthodox difficult. In fact, if I started a list right now I think I would be busy for hours, compiling all the challenging aspects of following halacha as I understand it. But no matter how frustrating it can be sometimes, no matter how many times a day I want to rip off my hair covering, as soon as Shabbat rolls around, I can’t imagine being anything but Orthodox. Shabbat is the reward for making it through the week.
Shabbat has always meant, to me, a stretch of uninterrupted relaxation. It’s enforced relaxation, in fact — just sleeping, eating, reading and hanging out with family and friends. As I grow older and my weeks became more stressful, I am more and more grateful for the blessing that is Shabbat, counting down the days until Friday as soon as Monday begins. It is a weekly mini vacation made all the more special by the infusion of spirituality that I’m certain I can feel almost tangibly. And now that I’m married, Shabbat means all that and more.
Instead of a personal blessing, Shabbat now feels like something created for couples to restore their relationships to their ideal states. After a week of work and school and distraction, of television and texting and typing, Shabbat is 25 hours where it’s just me and Jeremy and nothing in between us. Even if we wanted to avoid each other, all we have are books and magazines to distract us from one another.
Our friends told us that Friday would be stressful, a hectic day of rushing to prepare the food for Shabbat. Instead, the anticipation of Shabbat sets in on Thursday night, and Friday is, if not relaxing — I tend to go overboard with the cooking — a day of cheerful bustling, waiting for the moment to welcome Shabbat that week. It helps, of course, that this year Jeremy and I both have Friday off, and we’re not trying to fit all our preparations in around work and school. (That will go away eventually, but for now we’re enjoying the perks.)
Then Shabbat begins, and even if we want to do something different, we can’t. Our phones are turned off, our laptops put away, and we have only each other for entertainment. We go to shul, we have meals, usually with friends, and we take walks to help digest all the food I’ve cooked. And we talk. And talk. We talk about our weeks, whatever we’re reading, whatever philosophical topic has struck Jeremy’s interest, or whatever bizarre news factoid I’ve picked up. And when we’re not talking, we’re sitting next to each other, reading, enjoying the special Shabbat silence uninterrupted by phone beeps or Facebook bings.
During the week, I’m a technology addict. I can’t put down my phone even when I’m watching TV. If I’m not checking Facebook, I’m checking Twitter. When Jeremy asks me to put down my phone, it feels like an imposition. My hand actually feels empty. But on Shabbat, I don’t miss any of it. I don’t care what’s happening outside of whatever room I’m in. I’m with the only person I want to talk to, and I experience actual human interaction with friends in real life. I may not always detect that spirituality I used to feel so deeply, but I feel a literal sabbatical from the fast-paced world. In short, Shabbat heals the shallow wounds that each week inflicts on me.
Life is simpler on Shabbat, and so is our relationship. If we disagree, we have hours to talk it out, instead of having to work our discussions around the rest of life’s demands. A day without technology has always been, for me, a day to recharge and prepare for the coming week while allowing the past one to wash away. Now it’s a time where my relationship can benefit, too.
Simi Lichtman is a contributor to the Forward.
Shabbat — The Marriage Cure