We often refer to summer Shabbosim as “long Shabbos” and winter Shabbosim as “short Shabbos,” based on the time Shabbos ends. But the truth is, Shabbos is always the same 25 hours every single week, and from my perspective, it is definitely not long enough! It is still only a fraction of our week. Given the potential of Shabbos to impact us on a weekly basis, we may have high expectations of what we want our Shabbosim to look like. Of course, while we may have had certain expectations before the pandemic, our experiences during the pandemic may have given us a different frame of reference for what Shabbos can be in our lives.
How might we frame what a successful Shabbos looks like? Is there a method for how we can approach this? In my own experience, I realized that I do not aspire to have davening to take longer than is necessary. But I also do not want to nap for too long. And I don’t want to be at the lunch table until 5:00 p.m. Is any of this blasphemous? Am I too caught up on time? It occurred to me recently that while I had certain disparate expectations of my own of what I want to get out of Shabbos, there is potentially a systematic way of looking at this from the lens of halacha that could help us on a communal level to frame our Shabbosim, which I am calling the “Well-Rounded Shabbos.”
The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) tells us that half of Shabbos is for Hashem and half is for us. Therefore, a good Shabbos does contain a few different components: tefillah, oneg (i.e., kiddush and meals), Torah study, and napping. While we may be aware of these components in isolation, I began to wonder, how does one balance all of these? How should these different parts of the Shabbos experience interact to ensure that all have their proper place and time?
Let’s begin with tefillah. It should be stated from the outset that tefillah should not be a burden. While we are in Hashem’s home and standing before Hashem, we should seek ways to make it meaningful. With that said, the pandemic raised many conversations about the length of tefillah in shul. There is clearly a large contingency of people who want a more streamlined tefillah. The truth is, this is not a new discussion. Although tefillah is not supposed to be a burden, poskim throughout the ages have argued that this does not mean the length of davening in shul should be indefinite. The Sages instituted only seven blessings in the amidah in an effort to avoid burdening people with lengthy tefillah on the day of rest. While I enjoy singing in tefillah, poskim encourage a balance to ensure tefillah is not too long; in fact, Maharshal writes that even if the community desires it, singing should not be stretched out on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Peri Chadash and R. Yaakov Emden both write in teshuvot that if our Sages instituted only seven blessings in order to eschew long tefillah, then that should be reflected in the amount of singing and Mi Shebeirachs.
But when I discussed these ideas in a shiur recently, someone said, “Well, where are people rushing to if they make davening short? To kiddush, to shmooze?
Yes, kiddush and our Shabbos meals are part of our Well-Rounded Shabbos as well. We encounter the verse (Yeshayahu 58:13) “v’karata la-Shabbat oneg,” which is understood to refer to partaking of food to our delight. The Gemara (Shabbat 118b) says one who delights in Shabbat will be granted the desires of their heart. Kiddush in shul is not just a way to entice people to come to shul but is a fulfillment of the directive to have oneg Shabbat. Likewise, Shabbat meals shared between families are not merely a concession to social needs but rather a true fulfillment of the opportunity of oneg Shabbos. In addition, the opportunity for people to gather both at kiddushim and in each other’s homes for Shabbos meals contributes to the fabric that holds communities together. I stress that these are not b’dieved concessions; they are vital for the vibrancy of our kehillot kedoshot.
Yet, with the great value that Shabbos meals hold, it is appropriate to ensure they come to a close in a timely fashion. The Rama writes that if one regularly naps on Shabbos afternoon, they should not skip it because this, too, is oneg (Orach Chayim 290:1). For those who nap on Shabbos, this opportunity may be part of a Well-Rounded Shabbos. I think it would be worthwhile to set a norm that Birkat Hamazon is said around two to two-and-a-half hours after a meal begins. This does not mean that guests have to leave if everyone is enjoying themselves and wants to stay longer. Yet, having the closure sooner than later will give people the opportunity to go home for their nap when they are ready without having to wait for their hosts to get the hint that some people are about to (or are trying not to) fall asleep at the table!
Still, as praiseworthy as the Shabbos nap is in a Well-Rounded Shabbos, I usually set an alarm for Shabbos afternoon to wake up from my nap (that I still usually sleep through). This may sound ridiculous, but the Mishnah Berurah (290:3) reminds us that our naps should not extend too long, as it is important to learn Torah on Shabbos as well. Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat 15:3) tells us that the whole purpose of Shabbos and Yom Tov is for the Jewish people to learn Torah. Rav Eliezer Melamed, author of Peninei Halacha, gives a quantified amount of time one should spend learning: six hours. How does he derive this? He explains that assuming one legitimately has to sleep seven hours every night, that leaves 18 hours to be divided between what we do for Hashem and what we do for ourselves. This leaves nine hours for our own enjoyment and nine hours for Torah/tefillah. If one is in shul for three hours, that would leave six hours of learning. Perhaps, based on average shul schedules in America, maybe it is four hours of tefillah and five hours of learning. Indeed, to make any sort of meaningful progress in what they are reading or learning, one probably needs a few hours. Whether one has a Gemara open or is reading an actual book as part of Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin’s “I Read This Over Shabbos” movement on Twitter, spending time engaged in wisdom is a crucial component of the Well-Rounded Shabbos.
When we take these different opportunities together, we see that not only are we fulfilling half for Hashem and half for ourselves, but we’re also including three major components of mitzvah categories. Torah and tefillah help us develop our Bein Adam La-Makom, while our kiddush/meal times help us develop our Bein Adam La-chaveiro, and our napping (and to some extent, learning/reading) helps us develop our Bein Adam Le-atzmo.
Shabbos is supposed to be relaxing and b’nachat, not a day of time pressure. I do not suggest that it is worthwhile to time all of our Shabbos activities and rush from one thing to another. In fact, running is forbidden on Shabbos! Furthermore, it is obviously up to each individual to emphasize the parts of Shabbos they enjoy most.
However, I think it could be helpful to use these halachic perspectives to create a communal framework and language for what Shabbos can look like. We may have already been aware of these individual components, but I hope this perspective can give us a vision of implementing this type of Shabbos experience on a wider scale. With a bit of mindfulness about what we want our own Shabbos to look like and how we can help others create their ideal Shabbos experiences, we can ensure that the Jewish people is having a Well-Rounded Shabbos experience.
Rabbi Judah Kerbel is the rabbi of Queens Jewish Center and a middle school rebbe at Yeshiva Har Torah.