on toil and thankfulness this erev Shabbat

It’s been a week and a half this week.

I started Monday morning with a gut-deep therapy session which blind-sided my emotional self. And then I continued into Tuesday, then Wednesday, and finally today calling every Massachusetts unemployment insurance employee I could talk to (or so it felt like). Apparently my case is being adjudicated hence the longer delay in receiving benefits. So, I’m not sure when they’re going to kick in, and I’ve felt that looming financial stress this week. In between, I’ve been applying to jobs, networking, trying to make time for my emotional and spiritual self, and connect with friends, family and my partner.

Today I drove to Salem, then to Lynn, to meet with a colleague. It was a wonderful time. On the way there I found myself asking HaShem for blessings — for the day to ease, for the ability to move into Shabbos with a lightened heart and no more external stressors. After praying, I found myself taking in the beauty of my drive. The sun through the windshield. The feel of my silk-blend blouse on my skin. The beautiful blue sky reflecting on the coastal waves. I smiled- a lot. For the first time all day I felt truly in my mind and body and thankful for it.

Tonight, I returned home to a letter from the Suffolk Court and a copy of the papers granting my divorce. At first I thought, “G-d, why today? Why even after my prayers and asking for your gentleness? Why this now?” And I cried reading the divorce papers. And then, I reached out to my ex-wife because, as the tears were rolling down my cheeks, I began to remember and I was thankful. And, I wanted her to know that in receiving those documents I was still remembering her, our relationship, and thinking on that history with love.

I decided tonight to make four loaves of challah. One for my neighbors who helped to shovel me out a new parking spot at 10pm on Tuesday evening after someone took mine. One for my friend Erin. One for me. And, the other, I’m still finding a home for.

As I braided the challah I thought about thankfulness. Of who I was getting to share food with, of the people and experiences that bless my life. I thought of my ex-wife and the gifts I was given in my relationship with her. Learning to still myself and listen to the waves. Learning to share my stresses. Learning to be vulnerable while healing physically. Remembering I am intelligent and being reminded that I am pretty. Understanding that another person can offer security, but that I also have to cultivate my own inner security and peace. Realizing where I need to work on myself and beginning that process. Knowing that I need to communicate- a lot- as I’m in that process. I am thankful for my ex-wife and for the years we were together. And, as I braided tonight, I said a prayer of thanks for her and that time.

And then I said a prayer of thanks for where I am now. In the depth of these new difficulties also receiving so many new blessings.

  • The opportunity to think about my self and my religion- to open myself up to G-d and begin a new spiritual journey. To have friends I can talk with about this new journey and my desire to more deeply understand Judaism.
  • A new love- one that has so much laughter and caring, talking and listening, consciously setting boundaries, being honest- no matter what. A love with cuddles and a little wrestling, a little t.v. show-watching, much socio-political chatting, time spent learning each other’s stories, and seeing the vulnerabilities.
  • Family members who, even through their own life-stresses, are being there 100%. Through angry, despairing, and joyful phone calls. Who have offered their resources as much as their hearts and ears, and whom I am so overjoyed to see soon.
  • And friends- who all fill my days with smiles. With walks around the pond. Check-in texts. Miss-you texts. Here’s a job to apply to emails. Coffees and dinners. Big, big hugs. With listening and sharing. And lots of laughter.

As the challah baked, I finished preparing and then packaged up two tubs of a curried squash soup that I made the base for this morning. Tomorrow I will deliver one to my friend Cecelia and one to Erin. As I packaged the soup and returned to the challah to apply multiple egg washes throughout the course of baking, I realized that the making and gifting of food is yet another gift I received from my ex-wife. Her greatest joy was to bake and then give her baked goods away. At first, I couldn’t understand her joy. Perhaps, that’s because I love baked goods a little too much… Yet I, through my time with her, learned the beauty inherent in that act of baking and sharing. Today, on erev Shabbat, this act of working to give away feels especially right.

In my attempts to educate myself more about Shabbat, I came across an article by Rabbi Wein in which he states that

…The Talmud uses the relationship of erev Shabat and Shabat itself as a metaphor for life itself. It states: “One who toils on erev Shabat will eat well on Shabat.” This is not only valid in a literal sense but it reflects the Jewish attitude towards life and living in a general sense. Enjoying success – Shabat – in any endeavor, educational, commercial or personal is always conditioned on toiling beforehand – erev Shabat.

The rabbis in Avot stated: “According to the effort and pain is the reward and payment.” Judaism posits ‘no free lunch’ to anyone. It is the erev Shabat that alone creates the Shabat in all of its grandeur, simplicity and serenity…

In reflecting on this passage this evening I was struck with a deep, “That’s it.” Earlier today I asked G-d to let me breathe easier this Shabbat. To make the time gentle. To bless me with gentleness. With joyfulness. And I came home to divorce papers. And then I did the work. I toiled: in making challah, in finishing the soup, in praying and being thankful. I did the work of feeling and thinking and doing. And, as I realized this gift given to me, I breathed in a last prayer of thanks and exhaled, HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom.


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