A story from Erev Shabbos Parshas Ki Tavo– the Shabbos of Hurricane Irma….
I am pretty sure it was the first time I’ve ever done it, and I am a little embarrassed: I lit my candles and welcomed in Shabbat HaMalka in my bathrobe.
I don’t know where the day went, more so than usual. I do know that I was rushing to the last minute, in a blur of multiple preparations I had engaged in all at once, including setting the table and Shabbos candles, davening Mincha, switching on Shabbos lights, quickly calling friends to wish them “Good Shabbos” and stay safe, and launching in and out of a high-speed shower. It was an incredible hustle, and if anything, it was a learning experience of a profound kind: that of learning from my mistakes.
I should’ve taken extra care to complete things earlier, and I should’ve kept a sharper eye on the clock that didn’t wait. The Shabbos Queen does not wait for us; it is simply impermissible and undignified. Rather, we should be eagerly anticipating her arrival. I wasn’t going to risk lighting late, or not being able to add my light at all. (According to Halacha, if a woman fears that her bathing and dressing will carry on into Shabbos, she shouldn’t begin these personal preparations at the risk of desecrating Shabbos, G-d forbid.) But I only realized just what a time constraint I was in after a leapt from the shower, (I, for certain, would greet Shabbat HaMalka with a shining face!), so I laced up my bathrobe, donned a few appropriate garments for tzniyus’s sake, and shot downstairs to our patiently-standing candlesticks.
Standing next to my mother, as her lacy drape embraced the locks of hair resting on her shoulders, I struck my match. The enticing, familiar scent of a light smoke, the feel of the slender matchstick, and the alluring glow of the flame captivated my senses. I waved my hands in three graceful circles, and enclosed myself in a tranquil dark, in which my head reverberated with the pulse of my bracha. I felt a tremble beginning deep inside, unshed tears seared in my eyes, and I shuckled fervently as I prayed for the safety of my friends, and even strangers, who were in the deadly path of the hurricane. I prayed for Siyata Dishmaya for them, and for unity, faith, and strength. I prayed for the comfort of those who had already lost loved ones, and healing for those who were injured. Only Hashem could (and can) help them rebuild, pick up the pieces of shattered and flooded lives and homes, and come through such a disaster as greater, stronger and finer people. People, who would come closer to each other, and closer to G-d through the ordeal. “Please Hashem… Protect Your beloved children and Kehillos, and all those created b’tzelem Elokim, in Your holy image. May Your Rachmanus override the Gevurah of Your judgement, and please inscribe and seal us in the Book of Life for only revealed light, goodness, and blessing. Hashem, this mighty storm of Your is but the most recent of our trials which stretch so far back; how much more can we bear? Please save Your children and Your creations from all distress and misfortune…” Just as on Shabbos, the day of rest, we surrender our egos to the fact that the world is run exclusively by Hashem, I was similarly compelled to declare that my friends and fellows, all those in the storm’s path, rested solely in G-d’s hands.
I went on like this, and with all of my other Shabbos candle-lighting requests and tefillos. I quietly counted my blessings, and trailed off with the impossible task. Hashem has blessed me with an infinite amount to be grateful for. I praised Hashem with my own words of love… and opened my eyes. Tiny droplets of water from my hair gleamed in the candlelight, like pearls on the material of my soft, dark robe, and I couldn’t help smiling. I wished my mother a good Shabbos with a kiss, and slowly made my way to my room, to dress properly and daven Kabbalas Shabbos, on a plane of calm totally contrasting with my mood before lighting.
I drifted off into reflective thought. Had I touched upon a deeper note during candle-lighting this week than I had before? Even without my beautiful Shabbos clothes, but garbed in just a simple bathrobe, I felt like I had experienced a far deeper and more intense few moments of prayer. Shabbos clothes, and other material additions and adornments, all create a fitting and pleasurable Shabbos atmosphere, and are all quite necessary in attaining this unique element of Shabbos observance. But is it possible to make Shabbos without these other pleasing items? Yes, I believe so; there are indeed many stories as well, of Torah giants who faced this challenge and passed on the flaming torch of their success to their followers. The Midrash teaches that the spirit of Shabbos is the Bride, weekly wed in a cosmic marriage to her Groom– the soul of Klal Yisrael. As I stepped from a hassle of chaos, enwrapped in simplicity, into the unparalleled realm of Shabbos Kodesh, I met the Shabbos Queen with love.
I met my essence.