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Change Your Erev Shabbos, With the Gift of Chatzos

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It’s five minutes before candle lighting time on erev Shabbos. What is your house like? Is everyone flying in all directions with you at the center issuing instruction like a machine gun: “Moshe, set the time-switches, Aviva, check that the water’s boiled and turn the urn onto the Shabbos setting. Who is still in the shower? Shloimy, when the soup’s boils put it on the hot plate. Turn the dryer off and take out whatever you need for Shabbos?” or…

Is it calm and quiet, the blech /hot plate all set up, food, salads and side dishes, cholent all prepared in the fridge or simmering away, time switches set, candles all prepared, table laid, you and the children all showered and dressed in Shabbos clothes? All that’s left to do is light the candles.

If your home fits the chaotic description but you’d love to change it to the calm one maybe you should think about joining the ever growing Chatzos Movement – a group of ladies whose goal is to have all the main preparations for Shabbos over by chatzos, the middle of the day on Friday.

The group was founded by Azriela Jaffa about seven years ago, although she never intended to be the founder of any movement. Azriela read about the idea of chatzos in a newspaper article where a woman explained how she took on the goal of bringing in Shabbos at chatzos as a segulah for a refuah for her unborn granddaughter after the doctors discovered a life threatening complication in her development in utero. It wasn’t easy and involved a complete change in her mind-set, to start Shabbos preparations days in advance. But what the writer found, to her amazement was that not only did she see the yeshua she had prayed for when the baby was born with only minor problems, but she herself had completely changed her erev Shabbos experience.

Azriela thought about this and the increasing shidduch crisis the frum world is experiencing. She also remembered her daughter’s comment one Friday that she didn’t look forward to Shabbos because of the dreaded Friday chaos and tension – and she resolved to try and make Shabbos by chatzos as a segulah for her children finding shidduchim (they still had quite a few years to go then) and to improve the home atmosphere on erev Shabbos.

Azriela’s oldest child is only just approaching the age of shidduchim, but to say that she is happier since she started making Shabbos by chatzos is, as she said, “the understatement of the century.” When she made the change, she decided to cold turkey and go from chaos to calm in one fell swoop. “I flipped a switch, without any support, no mentors and no one helping me.”

As a regular writer for Mishpacha magazine she decided to write of her experience in one of her columns. The flood of enquiries from readers asking how to do the same thing resulted in a website, www.chatzos.com, and a forum where ladies share tips, menus, recipes and encouragement for those having a difficult time.

Yocheved K. of Jerusalem was one of the initial members of Azriela’s group. “It was a big change bringing calm into the house and the group provided incredible support and inspirational emails.”

Roiza W. of Flatbush joined originally because of a shidduch problem. “But after three or four weeks I so enjoyed the change on me and the change in my home that I just knew that this is what I want.”

Hadassa C. of Beitar felt like an exhausted caterer when Shabbos came in. She started making chatzos “so I could be the calm wife I wanted to be.”

There are now over 800 people on the chatzos forum but probably several thousand who are ready for Shabbos by chatzos. Azriela is very active on the forum, offering encouragement and ideas, but she is careful not to tell people how to get there on time. “You have to know yourself and what will work for you. If I make a commitment, I’ll make it happen, but everyone is different.”

Making Shabbos by chatzos does NOT mean you are accepting Shabbos early. It means that the cooking, cleaning, laundry and ironing are finished. In many homes the children and husband may not even be home from school or work that early, but when they do come home there is time for a snack and Shabbos preparation without the last minute rush which often causes so much stress.

It also doesn’t mean you have to start preparing Thursday evening. Nechama G. of Lakewood tries to do something every day, “even something small like planning the menus or choosing a new recipe.” Almost all agree that setting the Shabbos table on Thursday night is crucial to giving the home a feeling that Friday is really erev Shabbos. Hadassa makes kugels, cakes and ice cream on Monday and freezes them.

Many members of the group haven’t managed to be ready by chatzos yet, but they are working on having a calmer Friday and a least bentching lecht at the right time without any last minute panic.

Michal H. of Lakewood works on Fridays and accepts that at the moment she just can’t be ready by chatzos. “I do my own version. Whatever happens after I get home from work on Friday is strictly my business. I don’t harass people to help me.”

Rachel G. of Jerusalem admits she is not always ready by chatzos but she tries for as early as possible.  She points out that when recently she had some really hectic Fridays, the last minute rush was most unpleasant. “That’s when we realized how much chatzos has given us.”

If you and your family like freshly prepared Shabbos food, it’s still possible to be ready by chatzos. Make sure the cleaning, clearing, washing and ironing are completed before Friday. Set the table, clean and prepare the Shabbos candlesticks, cut aluminum foil, plastic tablecloths etc and prepare the food on Thursday night, ready to be put in the oven or on the gas on Friday morning.

The chatzos group has its detractors – people who think that it’s better to prepare another item of food in honor of Shabbos rather than stopping preparations early. But Azriela’s point is that there is a lot more to kavod Shabbos than food. “In fact you’re giving tremendous kavod to Shabbos if you prepare for it every day.”

“Some people feel no matter how much they’ve made it’s never enough. Others find it hard to give up that super-balabusta feeling of pulling out all stops on Friday with every gas burner busy and cakes and kugels lined up to go in the oven.”

But as Hadassa says “Making chatzos means so much more to me than another desert.”

There are many rabbinic sources encouraging the idea of being ready for Shabbos at chatzos and rabbonim have suggested this as a segulah for health and parnassah. The chatzos website has a section devoted to the idea as it appears in the Jewish sources.

If the idea of making Shabbos by chatzos sounds appealing, but you don’t know where to start, Malka K. of Toronto suggests making one small change to begin with, perhaps doing the shopping before Friday or baking on Thursday.

Nechama adds “If I can do it, working full time, with young children including a special needs child, you can too.”

Chatzosers agree it isn’t an all or nothing situation. Being ready ten minutes early is also a worthy goal.

It’s all about bringing in Shabbos with joy and calm.

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