Why is that so hard to say? Why can’t we stand together now, more than ever?
The Shabbat Candle-Lighting Blessing, and Calling On the Ancestors for Connection and Wisdom
Shabbat Is About Pausing For Connection With Your Loved Ones and With Your Judaism. So What If You Can’t Connect?
So begins the candle-lighting on Shabbat, one of my favorite and most simple Jewish rituals:
For much of my scant time with my Jewishness I’ve been alone, and Jewish is something you DO, not just be. You can’t be Jewish alone.
To be Jewish is to be in community, and Judaism is a history ripe with ritual; numerous rituals require a minyan—10 or more Jews—though luckily, the candle-lighting isn’t one of them.
Honestly, I feel strange lighting them alone; I feel disconnected, especially during COVID times, and I frequently wish I were in a Jewish family or home. I have been in one here and there, but don’t yet have the blessing of the Jewish culture permanently built into my day-to-day life.
A Trick For Connection
Like all Jewish prayer, the blessing for the Shabbat candle lighting is meant to be done while feeling it. The Rabbis teach: You should be mindful and say the words with feeling, rather than just mindlessly recite them (though reciting them is better than doing nothing at all).
One thing I do, inspired by my Yom Kippur practice, is to envision others lighting the candles with me—even if I am alone.
I picture all the families and Rabbis and men and women and children around me in California doing the same around the same time; I picture those who lit the candles in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv earlier in the evening, and what their conversations and attire may be like as they buzz around the room, Hebrew swirling in the air.
And I think of the Jews of Spain, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, India, Brazil, China, Ghana, and Jews in Toronto and New Jersey and Rome, those who lit the way before me, an unbroken chain of Judaism and the Jewish people across several thousand years, even as we were expelled from or exterminated in so many of the places on this list.
What did they see? What did they experience? Could they have fathomed our experience as Jews in the diaspora, and of those who returned?
It’s nearly impossible for me to recite or embody any Jewish prayer without thinking of the Shema. This isn’t religious; it’s anchored in the ancestors. The Shema, the biggest Jewish prayer, isn’t a prayer at all:
I picture this and carry it with me as I light the candles and recite the first prayer above, and picture all those who came before me and will come after, a blessing I practiced while in the mikveh upon my conversion to Judaism.
This is the biggest component of Judaism to me. The most important thing is that Israel is One as the Divine is One; you can not separate us—and all peoples—from the divine. And if I remember that, I feel a little less alone.