If you ask a religious Jew why it matters what time you begin Shabbat or what time you end it, they’re likely to say (among a few possible answers) that Judaism is all about sanctifying time. Elevating moments. Noticing the difference between holy and mundane, dark and light, and all the metaphors therein.
We light candles approximately 18 minutes before sundown on Friday (18 being the number in Hebrew that signifies life, or chai) and are supposed to consider it a day apart from the rest, when we refrain from work, have celebratory meals, and in the best case scenario study Torah with the people we care about most. The Sabbath does not end, then, until three stars can be seen in the night sky on Saturday, or approximately 45 minutes after official sunset.
There is a Jewish calendar and an English calendar (Gregorian, to be exact) and we religious types usually celebrate a Hebrew birthday and an English birthday (and don’t forget the all-important birthday party, which often falls on neither of the aforementioned official dates).
Today is Shaya’s second birthday. The English one. And for the life of me I couldn’t remember when his Hebrew birthday is. I went to the handy Chabad calculator (God love Chabad – they accept everyone and know everything, even if they believe a long-dead rabbi is the Messiah) and plugged in the numbers and voila – Shaya’s Hebrew birthday is the 26th of Iyar, which will be May 31st this year.
For a week and a half, Shaya’s been saying in all his chubby cuteness, “Shaya birthday NEXT WEEK!” Clapping hands together, eyes alight, his voice curving on the arc of the last two words with inexplicable joy. The next statement to follow was something like this, “Elmo cake!”
I made the Elmo cake on Thursday and froze it. Tonight, Asher and Eliana stood on chairs at the kitchen counter after Shaya went to sleep and “helped” me frost it – the bright red fur, a tear-drop shaped orange nose, two perfectly circular white eyes and the black pupils which Asher insisted I had to “press down” because otherwise they looked like little black Hershey’s kisses.
It looks damn good, if I don’t say so myself.
This morning when he awoke, I laid Shaya on the changing table in his room and quietly sang “Happy Birthday” to him. (No this You Tube clip is not the one I sang but it is hilarious!) He was so gleeful as I sang; I should’ve measured the grin on his pudgy little face.
This child – the third child, my last baby – he is so delicious. All of my children are gems, but there is something about a third that is extra delicious. Perhaps I’m a more laid-back parent now so I can savor the moments of his babyhood more. Or maybe it’s that I know I won’t have another baby, so I want to remember all of the little details – like the way he says, “pea-loom” for play room and knows the words to the book Pinkalicious, which he asks me to read over and over again.
Or the way his golden hair curls up at the sides into little wings. Or how he’s so eager to be BIG that today at lunch he asked for “glass cup too” but conceded that a plastic one without a lid was fine. (Third child or not, I just can’t see giving him a tall glass – visions of shards all over the floor and my baby paralyze me into the no-no-no Mommy fearful mode.)
Shabbat ends too late at this time of year for my three little lovely ones to stay up until Havdalah, which is the official ritual ending to Shabbat, when we light a multi-wicked candle, smell spices and drink grape juice. In the mood I’ve been in for the past several months, it’s just as well.
For since Havdalah means separation – marking the difference between holy and mundane – I might launch into some poetic treatise about how there is holy in every single day and that’s what the glory of life is all about. I know, it’s a bit much to take. But I mean it. Whenever I walk through a forest and smell the minty-woodsy scent of pine, I am overcome. Hiking near the Maroon Bells in Aspen last summer. Even just sitting on the cushiony swing in my backyard while Shaya rides the motorized mini-truck my parents got him for his birthday (not realizing he has to turn the handles to not crash into people, trees, the swingset or the house).
I can’t say that holiness is confined to one day. It’s not who I am. “God is the wind,” Asher has been known to say. And I can’t argue. Or the way Eliana was born – in two minutes without any drugs or medical intervention – and after, how I felt like I could do absolutely anything.
Holiness is everywhere. If you can’t see that, close your rule books and open your eyes.