A Shabbaton in the Woods*
The following is a short primer for those unfamiliar with our Sabbath laws, to explain why I don't blog on Shabbat. On the Sabbath ("Shabbat" in Hebrew), we are not permitted to do any work or conduct any business, among other proscriptions, such as not cooking, setting or changing settings of electrical appliances or using anything electric, except, for example, electric lights which were set before Shabbat, which we are allowed to benefit from (but not adjust) during this Holy day.
Shabbat is Holy, and dedicated to strengthening the connection between man and G-d. We are in effect, 'emulating' Ribono shel Olam (the Ruler of the Universe) in resting on the seventh day, just as G-d did after completion of the creation, according to the Torah. It is a physical-world reflection of "the world to come," as best as we can accomplish that here on Earth.
We try to make the day very spiritual, with additional prayers which are only said on Shabbat; it is filled with happiness, guests at the Shabbat table which hopefully is full of song--singing zemirot Shabbat--and a disconnection from the rest of the week. How wonderful it is, to be totally "free" - to not only not have to answer the phone or be a slave to your blackberry or read hundreds of emails, but we are actually forbidden from doing those things. Shabbat means to be free to worship and serve G-d, in joy and spirituality.
As a "fence" around the law, we are also not permitted to even pick up a pencil or a stray coin to put away, let alone use the coin to buy something or the pencil to write with; for these are mundane activities which we do every other day of the week and which are related to business transactions as well.
So obviously, today I couldn't post on my blog--a forbidden activity--until after sundown Saturday night and after the Havdalah ceremony which ends Shabbat, which is performed by reading, chanting or singing a special prayer, using wine, a braided candle and spices. Thus Shabbat is officially separated from the rest of the week.
Now it is night, and I'm in the 'computer room' in the main lodge, after havdalah, to post this.
There were two components to our Shabbaton: the physical, and the spiritual. The physical was a big surprise to us, so I'll start there: the owner of the campgrounds (a friend) put us in the smallest cabin, which is understandable because we are, at this point, only two people (the larger cabins and trailers were given to families with children). What I didn't anticipate (and what our friend didn't think of) was that this cabin is so small, it doesn't have a bedroom; it is a one-room log cabin (really--knotty pine, my favorite!), with a small "living" area which includes a futon, built-in-to-the-wall pine table which is bar-stool height, a small kitchen, and a bathroom with toilet and shower stall, and no sink (after using the facilities you have to wash your hands in the kitchen sink).
And there is a loft. Yes, I said "loft." A solid, vertical pine ladder with six rungs (like one on a bunk bed) was built into an upper section just under the eaves of the little cabin, which one had to climb up to crawl into a tiny area with a sloping roof--about 4 1/2 feet high, in which there were two low mattresses opposite each other on the floor. As you probably surmised by now, we are not spring chickens anymore (we're perpetually 39, like Jack Benny was. We have been 39 for years...); climbing a wooden ladder and bending down to get into a loft is something for twenty-five year olds, not a Saba and Savta!
After I panicked (how the heck will I get up there?), I took it as a challenge: this will be my 'basic training' (I can just see my commander daughter rolling her eyeballs right now), I said to myself. My TEST of YOUTH.
To make a long story longer--we both did it! I got up there (- I really gotta lose that weight) with effort, and slept on that mattress until 2:30 a.m., when my leg muscles started to spas--and I needed to be upright, but couldn't--because of the ceiling being below my head.
That was a bit of a scare, as I tried to scramble (I don't 'scramble 'very fast) down the ladder to straighten my leg. The ladder was what actually did it: it stopped the spasm! Therapy for my poor muscles: by the time I got down to ground level, my muscle had relaxed. Not taking any more chances, I opened the futon, and slept in the living room for the rest of the night.
But my kids should be proud of me: I met the challenge, and prevailed! I also took my "Shabbat nap" up in the loft, not the futon; I left that to D.H.
That's my story of the physical; what about the spiritual? Walking in the woods in my hiking shoes, looking at the clear sky and stars at night, breathing in the mountain air, and watching a family of deer--two does, a yearling, and two bucks with beautiful antlers right behind our cabin--was priceless, and really brought home the phrase "Mah Rabu Ma'asecha Hashem."**
**Mah Rabu Ma'asecha Hashem: how great are your wonders, Oh Lord