Shabbat Shalom
Shabbat Mishpatim / 25 Sh'vat 5775
Exodus 30:11-16 | II Kings 12:5-16

This Shabbat, Ellen Blum Barish shares 
Soul Time

Although I had seen thousands of Friday-through-Saturday sunsets, I didn't grow up with Shabbat. There was no sweet yeasty aroma of challah baking in the kitchen of my childhood home. No rhythmic sound of Hebrew prayers. No image of my mother standing in front of two candles, hands covering her eyes. (Forever safety conscious, I don't think my mother ever lit a candle in her life, not even for a birthday!)

It wasn't until I was in my late 30s, married with two children in religious and Hebrew school, that I began to take adult education classes at Beth Emet. I studied in part because my children were asking questions about Judaism that I couldn't answer and also because I had become curious. A combination of these, plus Torah study and Friday night services guided me toward a view of Shabbat as reflective time, the soul of the week. It became a very significant piece of the spiritual calendar of my life and soon, a ritual of my own making.

When our daughters were young and we had some control over their schedules, we lit two Shabbat candles, recited blessings and served Friday night dinners at home. But once they reached high school, Friday night dances and soccer practices ushered chaos into our peaceful observance. How could we allow for our children's busy academic and social lives while still acknowledging the Sabbath?


Light, I thought. Lighting candles would help us demarcate it.


It was a good idea in theory. But when the girls were upstairs, getting dressed for a dance or suited up for soccer, and I'd call them to come down to help light candles, they'd squawk about the interruption. "It's just a few minutes," I pled. But they boisterously protested and it made for a not-very-peaceful welcome to Shabbat. I ached over it and felt like a bad Jew for the first time in my life.

I shared this frustration with Rabbi London and she urged me to light the candles for myself. "Your daughters may not be there to see you light the candles," she said, "but they know that you are doing it and that's enough." And so I did. And it became more personal and indeed, enough to help me separate time in the week.


In the years since then, now that the girls live on their own, the candles still help me identify this separateness. They are my visual and spiritual image of Shabbat. I think of them as a metaphor for our constantly changing, always-in-motion souls that emanate from the wick of the candle, dependent on it but distinct, as we are in our relationship with the Divine. Lighting the candles - or switching them on a battery operated set if we are going out - reminds me that we are in soul time of the week. Without it, we are bodies without a soul.


To a soul-filled Shabbat. May you find something beautiful and distinctive from sunset to sunset.

ELLEN BLUM BARISH has been an active member of the Beth Emet community in a variety of ways since she and her husband, David became members in 1996. She became a bat mitzvah in her late 30s and taught fifth grade religious school for several years. Ellen regularly attends Rabbi London's Friday Torah study and Beyond Om: Spiritual Practice for the Jewish Soul gatherings and she is a member of the Beth Emet board. Outside of the synagogue, Ellen is an essayist and editor of Thread: A Literary Publication and she teaches writing at Northwestern and North Park University and she is a private writing coach. Her features and essays have appeared in Newsweek, Self, The Chicago Tribune, Tablet, Literary Mama, Full Grown People, and have aired on Chicago Public Radio. One of her pieces earned an honorable mention in Tiferet, an essay she will be reading at the upcoming "Stories from the House of Truth" evening of storytelling that Ellen is curating on June 18th at Beth Emet. Her book of essays on family life, Views from the Home Office Window was published in 2007. Ellen will be reading from this collection on Monday, February 23rd at the Chicago Jewish Authors Literary Series at Max and Benny's in Northbrook at 7 pm. For more about Ellen, go to

Each Friday during 5775, we are featuring writings from you, our congregants, sharing reflections on Shabbat. We hope you will be inspired to share your reflections with the community. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please contact Stacey Zisook Robinson
This Shabbat at Beth Emet

Friday, February 13
8:00 p.m. 
Torah Reading in Meturgaman-style with Michael Orenstein. Tamar Selch to read Torah. 

Saturday, February 14
9:30 a.m. Rachel Orenstein Bat Mitzvah with Kahal Worship in the Sanctuary

9:30 a.m.  Minyan in Room 208
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