Yali

Oct 10, 2021

5 min read

Oneg Shabbat

It’s supposed to be easier the second time. That’s what they say- if you’ve done something once, when you have to do it again, it will be easier. I’m not really sure where this adage came from, because I find that with most things in life- that isn’t true.

Going into recovery after a relapse is not easier the second time, pregnancy is not (guaranteed to be) easier any time, marathon training is hard every time — even if in different ways, and motherhood certainly isn’t easier from 1–2 kids. Although, I would argue that in the case of motherhood, there is a miraculous expansion of heart and home.

I had a feeling, when we were released from the hospital a few weeks ago, that the saga wasn’t over. Say what you will- my instincts were right on the first time, and they didn’t fail this time either. While in better shape than when he went in on Erev Yom Kippur, the last three and a half weeks were no walk in the park.

I didn’t cry the first time. Throughout all 36 hours, I was calm, stoic ,hopeful, and strong for my child. Only once safely home, when he was back at school, I allowed the anger, sadness, and trauma of the experience to process through me. This time, when the Dr, at a routine follow up, told me that from her office, I needed to take him back to the emergency room- I could not stop my tears. I sat, holding my son on my lap, and my daughter beside me, and cried. She cried too- the fear and uncertainty of the last time still fresh in her mind. “You can’t go back to the hospital, mommy! I’m going to miss you both so much!” I had to explain, to both of us, that this is what we needed to do for his safety.

So, on the Shabbat before my birthday, friends came over for lunch and birthday cupcakes. Only, I wasn’t there — while they were partaking in what were certainly delicious cupcakes, I sat by my son’s bedside and stared obsessively at the monitors showing his vitals. Every time one of them fell out of range, which for most of the night, was often- the machines would go off in a cacophony of beeps and sirens that I felt down to my bones. Right around the time of the Shabbat lunch meal, he was doing better — good, even. I was hopeful — and we were waiting for the all clear. We ended up waiting several more hours as the monitoring continued.

When it comes to Shabbat observance, one of the great active mitzvot of Shabbat is to make Shabbat “delightful”- this is called Oneg Shabbat. In a sugiya that spans Shabbat 118a,b, several Rabbis discuss what it means to truly delight in Shabbat. The debate (posted below for anyone interested), centers mostly about what food one should eat, and who shall partake. Of course, when we look at delightful observance of holy days and holidays- what is true joy without food?

So, as I stared down at my prepackaged hospital box — delightfully called “the best friend box”- I wondered which part of this meal I was supposed to consider delightful. Is it the egg that was hard boiled who knows when ago? Is it the little apple slices? Or is it, perhaps, the tiny pouch of peanut butter. Can a meal that is purely purchased for sustenance also be considered delightful? For my answer, I didn’t need to look far. Just a few feet in front of me, my baby boy was happily munching on Oreos, after not being allowed food or water for almost 20 hours.

There came a point- sometime over the course of the morning, where he took a turn for the better, and asked for a snack. Sadly, with a permanently affixed mask on his face to help him breathe, and IV fluids in his arm, he was not allowed to have it. So, he asked to hold it. For 6 hours, he held on tightly to his pack of Oreos, until the moment where the mask came off, and he could eat them.

Food on Shabbat is supposed to bring us great joy. Now, if you have any kind of situation where food does not bring. you joy- that can get tricky. What, you may ask, might take the joy out of food on Shabbat? Well- I would answer, many things. Such as? Such as: illness, physical pain, intestinal discomfort, disordered eating, stress, social discomfort, heartache, loneliness….I could go on. What are you to do in those situations? Where do you get your delight, your Oneg, from? I can only answer that with my own experience — when the act of eating a social meal on Shabbat was challenging for me, I found the Oneg elsewhere: in a chance to catch up on reading or learning, a hearty laugh with a friend, a Shabbat walk, or a a simple little nap. Even now, when the meal aspect of Shabbat is not as tricky anymore, sometimes the Oneg comes from something else. Yes, we can have a Jewish celebration where the joy does not only come from food.

Now, I have a new image in mind, and a new answer for those Rabbis asking, “what does one consider delightful?” Shabbat can be a moment of much needed reprieve — say, like immersing oneself in the sweet, sugary crumbles of an Oreo cookie, after many hours of not being allowed to eat it. The Oreo, in that moment, was a sign of life returning — for both of us. Let me tell you, if watching that boy licking the cream off the cookie, and then stuffing both cookie halves in his mouth at the same time doesn’t count as Oneg Shabbat- I don’t know what does.

Why do I write about this? Partially, for my own processing. Also, because this time — he didn’t look like he needed to go to the hospital- he just looked like he had a bad cold. What lies within some of us can be a quiet beast that only roars when provoked- and it doesn’t roar at the same intensity every time. I always knew, with my children, to be on the alert for emotional and psychological roars- the physical one has taken me by surprise. There’s nothing easy about watching tour baby on breathing support (in his words “look mommy, I’m a robot!) Yet, the care, love, and intensity of action is the same. My being opens to absorb his pain, and my heart rejoices when he gets to eat his Oreos. When our children need us, it is our oneg to be there with them as they grow- stronger and stronger with each time. Even if we, ourselves may be challenged and tested beyond words.

The road is long, and Shabbat is fleeting — so a few travel packs of Oreos are a pretty good idea, too.