Springing into Spirituality with the Shovavim

When I was in seminary, I would spend hours pouring over Torah. But once I left sem and got married I found it harder and harder to take the time I needed to focus on my growth. Married women have much less time than I’d ever imagined as a single in sem. I’m not sure of the answer in order to find more time but one of the things that has been organized in my city in the past is a one week summer camp for women. Its 5 days of intense learning usually offered in the summer when those with kids may send them to summer camp. While 5 days might not seem like a lot, it’s enough to recharge one’s spiritual and intellectual batteries. “I’m not sure if anything like this exists in other cities but if it does I’d be very interested to hear from people who have been to such a camp.

A more immediate plan of action for me is to use the Shovavim (the 6 week period starting when we read Parshas Shemos) as a springboard. The Shovavim which begins on Sunday is a time for teshuva and I myself am trying to create my own tikkun middot. I have chosen a few practical but small strategies that will hopefully help. I have decided to complete sefer tehillim during this period. And I decided to do it on my morning commute on the subway so I would be focused on H’ and not on the gashmius and the pritzus that usually surrounds me on the subway.

I have decided to work on my tefillah, to raise it to a higher level. It is so easy to get consumed by the demands of the daily routine and let that spill over into our davening either by not davening at all or by davening without kavanah. This interaction with H’ should be a spiritual experience and to get there I think we need to focus on G-d’s presence. I have actually decided to say less (temporarily) with more kavannah and see how that goes.

My 3rd goal is to make some changes to my shabbos table. When I first moved back to N. America I was shocked at the types of conversations people had on shabbos, so much divrei chol. But after 9 months of being here I too have succumbed to that pressure and often find my own table filled with talk of jobs, news and other mundane non-shabbos talk. So I am going to make a conscious effort to speak more words of torah and encourage my guests to speak more words of torah. I am certainly not saying that it there will be no casual talk but I’d like to see a table where people speak torah with a sprinkling of mundane weekday things as opposed to the reverse.

7 comments on “Springing into Spirituality with the Shovavim

  1. As someone who has lots of people over on Shabbos, I have faced this problem many a time and here are a few rules I’ve set down that have worked really well for us.

    1] No Politics at our table!
    This means no shul politics and certainly no national politics. The way I explain it to my guests is that Shabbos is a time for peace and I talk about lighting candles [something they can all relate to] and the idea of Sholom Bayis. Therefore, politics which only leads to arguments is not a welcome guest at my table.

    2] Sing your hearts out
    Have Artscroll Hebrew English Bentchers and use them liberally.

    3] Don’t hesistate to review your childrens Parshah sheets.
    This takes time and places the focus where it ought to be – on your children. The parshah is interesting and this is a good way to talk about it.

    4] Have a good story ready for dead moments.
    I always prepare a story or two and then I have conversation points at the ready. This helps make sure that there are no chinks in our armour that invite the Lashon Harrah/Yetzer Harrah in.

    5] Keep the meals short!
    Sometimes hard on the wife but well worth the effort if you can do it.

  2. A quiz sounds good! We know from almost every educational environment (and the Shabbat table we’re talking about is a place to learn/experience Torah) that games draw people in *and* help some retain what’s presented or reviewed. My wife’s descriptions during residency of sophisticated, educated physicians getting excited by Jeapordy-style review games taught me alot. I know my students in school always enjoyed them. Two weeks ago one of my paramedics (a 50 year old man!) complained when I started teaching a training without the usual review game.

    I never thought about such a thing (beyond a teasing question or two) for the Shabbat table-but it sounds good!

    Shira- sorry, ‘Reno’ is not the correct answer. :-)

    We’re in Santa Fe, NM…for now.

  3. I didn’t know how to bring more torah into my table but this week I decided to try it in a light way so I gave a parsha quiz. It turned out to be quite fun and we all enjoyed the competitiveness of trying to have the right answer. I think I am going to continue with the parsha quiz but perhaps add some prizes. It was fun and nobody got the glossed over look that Yael mentioned. I think the best tables are the ones that are a bit more interactive where people get to share.

    Mordechai I’m curious to know where you live? I’m wondering if it is Reno as I have an upcoming conference there.

  4. re: the Shabbat table…

    Sometimes, a little ‘social engineering’ helps.

    We live in a town with a total of 4 or 5 observant homes. Three of these are single men (one of whom we almost never see). That leaves us and the Chabadnikim. You can imagine that most of the people we’ve had over on Shabbat or Yom Tov are nowhere near attuned to the holy opportunities of a Shabbat table. (I won’t begin to describe how frustrating our first seder was here…)

    Fortunately, the two single men are both people who learn as they can. They care about a nice Shabbat table. We try to be sure that one or both of them are at the table when we have other guests. This gives us a ‘critical mass’ of people who will sing zmirot, share a d’var torah, listen to a d’var torah, lead the zimun, etc. If the other guests are ‘clueless’ (sometimes thoughtless?) :-(, they’re carried pretty much by the critical mass of those who want to invest in a nice Shabbat table.

    It seems to work best when there’s someone in addition to the hosts singing zmirot and saying divrei Torah.

    We also keep it small, depending on the available observant people. If it’s just the ‘locals’, we may have only 2 or 3 guests. If we bring home out-of-town folks from shul (this is a tourist destination, conferences, etc.), they’re likely to be observant and we can have more people without upsetting the ‘social engineering’ balance.

    Fewer guests, with a nice atmosphere for all, and without the hosts getting frustrated is better all the way around for us.

    Lastly, we always do a reality check before I got to shul. If it doesn’t look like a good Shabbat to bring home guests, we don’t. See the above paragraph.

  5. Shoshana: thanks you for sharing your inspiring thoughts.

    Re: the shabbos table. Recently I have spent significant time and energy thinking about maximizing the shabbos table. In my experience, I have come to realize that many people desire a dynamic meaningful shabbos table yet they lack the tools to make their ideal a reality. (in this regard I do not think there is any distinction between BT and FFB families. Rather, it is an issue for us all.)

    Not everybody has lots of divrei torah at the tip of their tongue. While there are people who are blessed with the ability to talk in learning and there are people who spend time preparing divrei torah, those people may not always present in a stimulating manor. Somehow as soon as the designated person beings to give his dvar torah, one kid starts kvetching, another one has a sudden stomach ache, somebody else spills their soda and a sudden wave of exhaustion suddenly overcomes everybody. Am I the only one who has seen the guests’ eyes completely glaze over?

    A school aged child reading his rebbe’s dvar torah or an saying over a quick vort might make one feel yotzei. However, how meaningful is it if everyone tunes out for the dvar torah and tunes right back in again just in time to say “shkoiyach.” at the conculsion?

    In my own home we have spent many years struggling (not always successfully) to create meaningful dynamic, interactive, Torah discussions at the table. It is not always easy to balance the needs of a spectrum of people that might be at the shabbos table. I believe the type of table Shoshana (and many of us) desire doesn’t just happen. It requires some real thought and creativity.

    Any one have any ideas to share?

  6. Now you get another mitzvah for Shovavim; you’ve inspired me to use this period for teshuva as well.

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