The Greatest Shabbat of my Life
Years ago, whenever I spoke to groups on a Friday afternoon before the Shabbat. I would wish them “May this be the greatest Shabbat of your life….at least until next week.” I thought it was cute and clever and it became somewhat of a signature for me.
This past week I think I had the greatest Shabbat of my life. It was not great because the food was great. It wasn’t. It was not great because my bed was really comfy. It wasn’t. It was hard. It was not great because I was surrounded by friends. I wasn’t. So what made it so great? Let me explain.
My oldest son started high school in September and moved in to the dormitory. It was very difficult for me to let go and hand him over to the school. I felt as if I was relying on the school to parent my child. Though we do get to see him a bit during the week, he is only home on the Shabbat and holidays.
His school is not a typical school—it is a yeshiva. His day is long only ending at about 8:00 PM. In addition to the usual subjects like math, history, science etc. he spends many hours engaged in Torah study. While I miss him terribly, knowing that he is in such good hands and developing his connection to his faith for life is comforting.
This past Shabbat my wife and I went to what is called in Hebrew, Shabbat Horim or Shabbat of the parents. The tenth through twelfth grades are sent home for Shabbat and the ninth graders stay and the parents of the ninth graders are invited to join. Of course, my wife and I agreed to participate as did 99% of the parents.
In the days preceding the Shabbat the ninth graders spend a lot of time preparing the building. My son had to prepare a room for us in one of the rooms vacated by the upper classmen.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon, Akiva led us through the dorm to the room where we would be staying for Shabbat. When we got to our room, let’s just say that it was not the King David Hotel. I did not care though. I was so looking forward to the Shabbat and nothing would dampen my spirits.
The official program for Shabbat began about thirty minutes before the actual onset of the Shabbat. We were told to go to a little alcove where Akiva was sitting with another two boys. They were playing spiritual songs on their guitars to set the tone and the mood for the Shabbat. All the parents and students joined in. It was a “wow” moment.
Without going in to the details of the entire Shabbat, over the course of the Shabbat I realized that my boy was becoming a man. He was finding his place on his own. He was connecting to the traditions of the past but also finding his path to the future while dancing to his own tune.
All of this is happening in an amazing setting and context.
As the sun was setting on Shabbat afternoon and Shabbat was slipping away, we sat in a large circle—parents and kids singing slow, moving songs. I looked around at circle and saw the 70 ninth grade boys. These boys are the cream of the crop of the Jewish people. They are growing up in the hills of Judaea. They are taught the deepest values of the Jewish faith. They speak the language of the Bible. They are taught about character. They are taught about love of Israel. They will also serve in the army. (Please God there will be peace and that will be unnecessary) Their dedication to Israel is inspiring.
They do not live in a fancy dorm. The food is terrible. There are no air conditioners. The beds are tiny and hard. It is far from luxurious. They do not receive everything on a silver platter. But they are happy. They are learning and growing.
In our prayers we say “Elokeinu, v’Elokay avoteinu” which means our God, and the God of our forefathers. There are two aspects in our relationship with God—we relate to God in our own personal way and also, we relate to God as we were taught by our parents and grandparents. This Shabbat I saw that Akiva had made God his own.
When we were leaving after Shabbat was over, the Rosh Yeshiva (head rabbi) was standing near the exit to the parking lot. I went over to him and said to him, “I have been waiting my entire life for a Shabbat like this.” And it is true. Nothing can compare to the pride I felt in my son this Shabbat.
Well, this was the greatest Shabbat of my life…not sure if next week can top it!