Shabbat Tales

The first Shabbat my husband and I said the parents’ blessing for children our daughter was an infant, her delicate head with fine hair soft to my touch, and the final words of the prayer a quiet hope for the future, “May God turn God’s spirit to you and grant you peace.”

When the pre-school years came, we continued the parents’ blessing for children and taught Rachel to say, hamotzi, the prayer over our challah covered with blue velvet, an easy-to-learn Hebrew sentence.

Soon she moved on to helping me light the candles when I received a gift of a candle lighter, a long silver wand with a candle stub at the end whose lit wick, in turn, lights the two Shabbat candles in our brass holders.

As elementary school started and our schedules became more complicated, we didn’t sit down every day for dinner as a family. Except on Shabbat. On Friday nights our only plans are to be with each other.

“What’s the parashah for the week?” my husband now asks Rachel, after the meal and before dessert.

He knows the parashah from his own day school days, Rachel is learning it now in fourth grade, and I try to keep up reading weekly Torah translations online, as I never learned the texts back in my Hebrew school years.

But recently I found wedged in my bookshelf, While Standing on One Foot: Puzzle Stories and Wisdom Tales from the Jewish Tradition by Nina Jaffe and Steve Zeitlin first published in 1993. Why not add this to Shabbat, I figured. Besides, some of the tales are short, two pages, not too long to postpone dessert.

So last Shabbat I brought While Standing on One Foot to the table and read aloud “The Court Jester’s Last Wish.” Like the other stories in the book, it sets up a seemingly impossible situation, asks the reader how he or she would respond, and then gives the story’s answer.

It begins with the court jester in Babylonia who is doomed to die because of an insulting joke he made to a military commander (talk about a tough audience). But the king, grateful for the laughter the jester had brought to the court, decides to let the jester choose his manner of death – hanging, poisoning, eaten by wild beasts, you name it, you got it.

Here we, the readers, are asked what he would choose.

Rachel, my husband, and I are stumped. How would he want to die? And really who wants to think too long about that on Shabbat? We don’t spend much time pondering it and turn the page.

The clever jester stands before the king to state how he wishes to die, and says very simply, “Old age.”

“That’s great, Mom.” Rachel tells me. “Next time can I choose the story?”

And I know not only will Rachel choose the story next time, it won’t be long before our Shabbat rituals will shift again, most likely with changes Rachel brings herself. But our parents’ prayer will continue.

May God bless you and keep you.