Monday, April 20, 2009
The Sixth Day
Photo (c) Amy Samin
This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 11 June 2004.
According to the story of the creation in the book of Genesis, on the sixth day God created the creatures who dwell on the land, including mankind. In fact, God was so busy on the sixth day of creation that the telling of the activities of that day is twice as long as the story of any other day. In addition, after God had finished, he "saw everything he had made, and, behold, it was very good." This is the only day in which the words "very good" are used to describe how God felt about his handiwork.
The sixth day in Israel is Friday. The Hebrew words for Friday are, literally, the Sixth Day: yom sheeshee.
Fridays are special here in Israel. Up until recently, Friday was just another work day, albeit one that ended a bit earlier than the rest. In deference to the Sabbath, or Shabbat, which begins at sundown on Friday night, shops and offices would close, and busses stop running, in the mid-afternoon. Schools let out early on Fridays, too. But aside from that, Friday was like any other work or school day, and only Saturday was a day of rest.
In recent years, Friday has become more and more like Saturday in America and many other places around the world. Although shops, restaurants, and some national services (such as the post office) operate on Friday, many employees of offices and banks now have the day off. There is even a plan in the works to implement a five day school week. The thought of a genuine two-day weekend every week is a heady one for most Israelis. For now, though, many parents have Fridays available for all of the little things they like to do before Shabbat: clean the house, visit the greengrocer or the open-air market, wash the car, or meet friends for coffee.
Of course, the most common thing people do on Friday is prepare the festive Sabbath meal. A short walk through my neighborhood this morning afforded me the pleasure of sniffing out, quite literally, what's cooking: chicken soup (of many ethnic varieties), roast chicken, various salads and side dishes filled the air with the scents of garlic and onion, tumeric and cumin. Many people invite family members or friends to share their Friday night dinners, but even those who dine in an intimate nuclear family group serve a greater variety of dishes, or a more expensive cut of steak, than they do during the week.
It's not just the appetizing smells that waft through the air on Friday. There is a sense of anticipation of the coming of Shabbat, the approach of the day of rest. There are some who truly do little more than rest, and pray, on the Sabbath. In order to honor the commandment to "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" they try as much as possible to set Shabbat apart as a completely unique day. They do not drive, answer the telephone, put pen to paper, or use electricity. For them, Shabbat is an oasis of calm and relaxation that has no relationship to the other days of the week. Others, who do not follow these practices, tend to view the Sabbath as a day to do exactly as they please, whether it be sleep late, go to the beach, take a day trip to a distant part of the country, or indulge in a favorite hobby. For everyone, Shabbat is truly the queen of the week. When you know such a day is mere hours away, you face the day before with a light heart. On Friday, you can almost hear a murmur in the air: "Shabbat is coming."
When people part from one another on Friday, whether they be students leaving school, friends going their separate ways, shoppers leaving the supermarket, or even the anchor people at the end of the news program, instead of telling one another 'goodbye' or 'see you later,' they wish one another, "Shabbat shalom." In a way it is like saying, "have a good weekend" but it is more than that. It is also sharing a wish for a peaceful Sabbath, a Sabbath in which only good things happen.
On Friday, the sixth day of the week, after all of our travail of the week gone by, it is possible to hope, to believe, that we will indeed have a Shabbat shalom.