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Book review: ‘Countdown to Shabbos’

Countdown to Shabbos by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

Countdown to Shabbos by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg


I clearly remember a song from religious school when I was very young:

I must hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry
What a worry, worry, worry, worry
See the sun has almost set
I haven’t lit my Sabbath candles yet!

How stressful is that?

Not until I grew older and learned more about the Sabbath did I realize that Shabbat offers the total opposite of that stressed-out, rushed feeling. Shabbat is a time to abandon the pressures of the work week and to enter a zen-like state, focused on G-d, Judaism and family. Nothing else.

Upon reading Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s latest book, Countdown to Shabbos, I now also realize that the Shabbat state-of-mind can and should begin during the weekdays leading up to Shabbat, and can even linger in the days following.

In fact, Goldberg demonstrates how each day of the week and its corresponding number (Sunday=1, Monday=2, and so on) has a significant role in leading one to the spirituality of Shabbat. Each day’s number is equivalent to a Jewish spiritual concept that one can apply to one’s Shabbat observance. Each of the seven chapters in the book reveals a different concept.

For example (spoiler alert!), in the chapter, “Shabbos as Two,” for Monday, the second day of the week, Goldberg explores the relationship between  the two most important days in a person’s life,  the day of one’s birth and the day of one’s death — and Shabbos.

There are two versions of the Ten Commandments in the Torah — one concerning Creation and the other the Exodus — and both help one anticipate the arrival of Shabbos.

“Two” is graphically represented on Shabbat with two candles, two loaves of challah, and two angels accompanying the Jew home from synagogue on Friday night. What’s the relationship between Shabbos and two’s?

Actually, a way of learning how to “countdown” to Shabbat would be to start reading this book on Sunday, and read one chapter each day until and including Shabbat. The anticipation for Shabbat will slowly build up during the week and by the time Shabbat does come, the reader will welcome Shabbat with a new perspective.

That’s on the spiritual level.

Goldberg also offers practical advice for letting go of the pressures of the work week as Shabbat approaches. He has adopted a personal strategy of not dealing with any contentious or aggravating matter, on Friday, erev Shabbat, whether be work-related or dealing with repair annoyance, unless it truly requires immediate attention. He simply puts it off — and out of his mind — until after Shabbat.

He also recommends beginning to shop for non-perishable food Shabbat meals on Sunday or Monday. Not only does that alleviate last-minute shopping stress on erev Shabbat, but it puts the shopper in the Shabbat-anticipation mode early in the week. Another practical tip: set the Shabbat table on Thursday night. Even something as simple as setting up the Shabbat candles the night before says, “Shabbat is coming,” and every time you see those candles in place, you’ll be reminded of the 24-hour oasis of serenity that is coming.

“Countdown to Shabbos” is an easy, enjoyable read, only 96 pages including notes and an extensive bibliography. It is a spiritual and practical guidebook for coping in this unpredictable world.

“Countdown to Shabbos” is published by OU Press.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Larry Hankin

IJN Associate Editor |

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