Wednesday, July 13, 2011

When the soul moves on

I recently acquired new Shabbat candlesticks. It took a long time to find them. I wanted something specific: colorful, not traditional. But not kitschy and touristy, either. I had something in mind, but I couldn’t find what I was imagining.

And then my mother came to visit. My mother has a kind of magic around her that even my narrowed, rationalist gaze must take in. With my mother here, my everyday Jerusalem unfolded with strange coincidences, unlikely stories, and best of all, unusual pieces of art that seemed like they weren’t there, couldn’t have existed before my mother walked into the store.

So we found my candlesticks. Here’s a picture.

Aren't they pretty?

I took my wobbly old set of candlesticks and set them aside on a bookshelf. I showed the new ones to Y.B. and A.N. One of the great pleasures of being a mother to daughters (and a daughter to a mother) is sharing the joy of New Pretty Things. My girls light Shabbat candles with me, so I thought they would be excited by the new candlesticks. But they regarded the unfamiliar objects with suspicion.

Y.B. spotted the old candlesticks sitting on the bookshelf.

“Oy,” she sighed. “It’s so sad.”

“What’s sad?” I asked.

“The old candlesticks! What’s going to happen to them now?”

I thought about it.

“Well, maybe we’ll set them aside for when guests come to visit and want to light candles? Or have them melted down and get something new from the silver?”

Up to that point, I hadn’t thought much at all about the old candlesticks. They were in an attractive modern style that I’d loved as a new bride, but the delicate design hadn’t held up to the years. Now, though, I was filled with sentiment for these objects of holiness that helped me welcome Shabbat each week.

. . .

I was recently discussing the issue of cremation with someone I love. The following question arose in our discussion: if it’s the soul that’s eternal and significant, what does it matter what we do with our bodies after (or, for that matter, before) death? Why does Judaism forbid cremation and other ways of destroying or marring the body?

But the body is more than just a temporary home for the enduring soul. The body is the vehicle through which we pursue our life’s mission. It is with the body that we perform the mitzvot that connect us to our Creator. Without the body, the soul can’t achieve anything.

After death, the soul continues its journey to completion, and the body’s job is finished. But we don’t dispose of it lightly. We ritually cleanse the body and dress it in white linen shrouds. We return the body to the earth as quickly and simply as possible, with great dignity.

. . .

And what of my candlesticks? They were the vehicle for many weeks and months and years of mitzvot. They held the candles as I lit the flame and drew the light into my face, covered my eyes and thanked God for choosing me for a life of closeness, connection and responsibility.

Week after week, I stood in front of those candlesticks, whispering prayers and gliding into Shabbat from the frenzied week that preceded it. First in Manhattan, then in New Jersey, and finally in Jerusalem. First on my own and then bouncing one baby seat with my foot while balancing another baby on my hip. Then with two little girls standing next to me, their baby brother looking on. And then the girls were lighting their own small flames, and B.A. was standing by, waiting for me to place a blessing on his tiny head and give him an “eebop” as a Shabbat treat. That’s a lollipop, in case you don’t speak B.A.-language.

In any case, the candlesticks are not the essence of the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat lights. They are just the vehicle. The old set will be put aside, and I pray that I will go on to light Shabbat candles for many weeks, months and years. But I set the old candlesticks aside with great dignity and gratitude.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful candlesticks! This is one of my favorite posts. I love reading your blog. said...

beautiful, chaya. I especially loved this sentence, and how you placed the word "responsibility" at the end.

"covered my eyes and thanked God for choosing me for a life of closeness, connection and responsibility."

What an idea, to thank Hashem for giving me responsibilities. Something to ponder...

and love the candlesticks, very pretty:)

Risa said...

Chaya, you have given me food for thought. I have in my possession candlesticks that must be from Europe but their provenance is lost forever.

We found them at my grandmother a"h's home after she passed away --these were not the ones she lit but rather were found tucked away in a china closet.

They are bent, mismatched, repaired with shoddy sodering (say that ten times fast), and that makes me love them all the more.

I can only guess that they belonged to my great great grandmother, and when she passed away when her oldest daughter was a teenaer, and the oldest daughter fled from her new stepmother to America, the daughter, my father's Bubby, must have brought these-- but thats all just imaginative forensics on my part. Anyway, they are so crooked and decrepid as to be unusable, but I can't part with them and know not what to do with them....

Meanwhile, still searching for my own Pretty New Things (new candlesticks). Can you mom fly in & help????

LOVE the post! And the PNTs!

Sheva said...

Hi i just found your blog though Jewish mom and I wanted to tell you that these are gorgeous . I aso do not have lichters yet and I'm still waiting for my perfect pair

Chaya said...

Hi Sheva,thanks. I also found your blog through! I really love your photographs. I'm from Tucson, too, BTW.

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