The lamb chops were pink and juicy at the center, moist and savory, crispy on the outside. Vegetables roasted to perfection – radicchio, leeks, shallots, zucchini and asparagus. The sweetness of squash souffle brought balance to the table.

“Your kitchen is so clean,” my mother remarked as we dried the dishes. “Remember how messy it used to be, when you were observant?”

It was the nicest evening in a long time, my children happy, my parents and grandmother serenely at my table, so many candles flickering against the dining room wall. Outside, it was quiet and dark; in the night it would snow and we’d awake to that blanket-peace of just-fallen whiteness that only a calm winter day can bring. 

When I said that I could no longer see the attraction of the rigid life I’d lived for a decade, my mother smiled. “I don’t have an answer for you,” she remarked.

But it wasn’t an answer I sought. It was rhetorical and it was past and the moment had moved into the kind of serenity I’d always envisioned for a Sabbath eve but somehow let slip away in the race for following-the-rules.

I’ve hugged my children more and breathed deeply today than on any Shabbat of my observant years. It’s a wonder how, when left to define ourselves without expectation or someone else’s parameters, we come up with the sweetest understanding.

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