Tradition tells us that tonight, when we light the candles, we mark the beginning of the sabbath, in honor of the formal “rest period” that God took after creating the world. It is supposed to be a time of relaxation and reflection. It is supposed to be a time we cease doing what we have been doing all week in the secular, electronic world.
Well, this whole week has not exactly been relaxing, but it has definitely been a forced respite from the usual realm of technology. As everything ran out of battery power, we were forced to do other things. There were reports of family board games and neighborhood “Twister” events. Ice cream parties – it was gonna melt anyway! – by candlelight. And TBA became a giant community party as families came to our building to recharge physically and emotionally. The atmosphere at Temple was nothing short of festive as people laughed about their circumstances while watching children of all ages play with the nursery school toys unveiled from behind the stage curtain.
See, that’s the thing about these natural disasters – it actually does bring people together. The trite saying is in fact true – Crises makes us remember what is important. “We have no power, but thank God we are all safe” or “My phones are out and my street is impassable, but we are so lucky the tree fell the other way”. I am sure you have heard similar things all week. We see the pictures of devastation in Breezy Point and instantly know how deeply fortunate we are to have homes, even electricity-free ones.
How long will that last?
When the lights go back on, how long will it take for us to forget how lucky we felt just to have a home? From the moment the switch is flipped, how much time will it take before we become seriously annoyed that someone left a dish in the sink or irritated that the laundry is piling up again. One day? A few days? A couple of hours?
Tradition also tells us that when Shabbat ends, we are supposed to perform a ritual called “Havdalah”, to literally separate the holy day of Shabbat from the rest of the mundane week. We smell the spices, light the braided candle, and ceremoniously put the candle out in the wine. We are told that we should consciously mark the end of the restful, sacred period to enhance our understanding of its importance.
So, when the lights go back on, how can you mark the moment? How can you and your family consciously hold on to the feelings of friendship and good will that you experienced this week? How can you create your own Havdalah – your own separation – between the darkness of your powerless house and the lights that will miraculously go on? It seems to me there is an opportunity here to gather your family together not just in an early thanksgiving for having electricity back, but in a moment of realization that when Sandy came to town, all you really needed was one another.
You can do this by making up your own blessing. You can go around the table and each say something you are grateful for. You can come together and ceremoniously blow out the candles that are strewn about your house. As each one is blown out, say something good that happened as a result of the storm. You can resolve as a family to let the feeling you had during the darkness, extend to the rest of the lit week. Or come up with your own ritual. As Shabbat begins, I hope you will resolve to mark the moment when your personal world is filled with light again.