Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shabbat Angels

By Susan Esther Barnes

Rabbi Yosé bar-Yehudah says: on Erev Shabbat two angels accompany a person home from the synagogue: one is good and the other is bad. If he arrives home and finds candles burning, the table laid and the couch arranged [around the table] the good angel says "May it be this way next Shabbat too," and the bad angel has to respond "Amen." But if the opposite is the case it is the bad angel who says "May it be this way next Shabbat too," and the good angel has to respond "Amen."
-The Talmud

On Friday evening – Erev Shabbat – I drive straight from work to the synagogue, where I arrive about 45 minutes before services start. One of the first things I do is go into the kitchen to pick up my challah, which I put in my car.

I then turn my attention to greeting. On any evening I may help set out the food and wine, or help someone with a walker or wheelchair to find a seat, or introduce a visitor to some people so they don’t have to stand around by themselves.

Once services start, I’m usually either greeting people who are arriving late, or setting out more chairs if the sanctuary is full, or passing out bags of crayons and coloring books to the parents of small children. It’s hard to say what I’ll be doing, but I know what I won’t be doing is thinking about my work week, or the economy, or the latest celebrity gossip.

Usually by the time we get to the Amidah everyone is pretty much settled, and I have a chance to participate in the prayers. I try to keep an eye out, though, in case anyone comes in late and needs a prayer book, or in the event someone needs one of the boxes of tissues we try to keep handy.

By the time we’re ready for the Mourner’s Kaddish I’m up again, heading over to childcare to bring the kids back to the sanctuary for Kiddush. Then I head over to the doors so I can open them at the end of services and say goodbye and Shabbat shalom to people as they leave.

Every night is different. Some nights, I feel like all I’m doing before and after the praying is socializing. But sometimes I can see by the look in someone’s eye that I have helped them, and they appreciate it. More than that, I know what I’m doing makes a difference because at seemingly random moments someone I barely know will smile and rub my back or my arm, or, as on one occasion, will wordlessly lean over and kiss me on the cheek on the way out the door.

Once most of the people have left, I put my Shabbat Greeter badge back in its basket, and drive home, feeling relaxed and glowing. In the still of the Shabbat night, I kiss my mezuzah and I enter my home. As I look at my dark, empty table and put away my intact challah, an angel says, “May it be this way next Shabbat too.” And sometimes I smile and wonder: Which angel is speaking?

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