Rabbi’s Corner: “Oneg” Means “Joy”


Did you ever wonder why the desserts and treats we enjoy after our Erev Shabbat service are known as an “Oneg Shabbat?” The phrase “oneg Shabbat” literally means “the joy of Shabbat.” We learn from a tapestry of Jewish sources that Shabbat is to be celebrated with such joy that even mourning the death of a loved one is suspended for the observance of Shabbat. Shabbat joy takes precedence over mourning. When we gather together and share food, drink, and friendship at our “oneg” following our Erev Shabbat worship, we are filling our souls with the joy of community, friendship, and shared values. Shabbat gifts us as an “island in time” during which we can experience true joy, relaxation and reflection. (Abraham Joshua Heschel explains Shabbat as an “island in time” where we can collectively reflect and express gratitude for our lives and what God offers us).

My Shabbat “oneg,” my Shabbat joy, begins every Friday morning at 10:30 am, when I lead a brief Shabbat program in the Sanctuary for our ECC (Early Childhood Center) children. We sing Shabbat songs, learn blessings, engage in conversation with an interactive story and learn about upcoming holidays.

This summer, I introduced a new friend to our ECC children during Shabbat: Avi. Avi is a puppet (much like the ones in the photo above). With Avi’s help, we have learned about “big feelings,” celebrated Shabbat on an imaginary beach and on vacation, discovered how to do “mindfulness” exercises while we learn our alphabet with a book called “Alpha Breaths” and so much more. When Avi had his fourth birthday over the summer, he gave everyone a “loot prize” of small dinosaur bubbles (since their favorite Shabbat song is: “There’s a Dinosaur Knocking at My Door…And She Wants to Have Shabbat with Me!”). They LOVE Avi! If they don’t see him right away, (sometimes, he’s napping in a basket, or stuck upside down in a briefcase, or he’s being shy), they ask immediately: “Where’s Avi?!?!”

Today is the first day of our new ECC year and the children will be so excited when they see Avi bring two new friends with him to Shabbat: Leora and Yuni (I have two hands and now three puppets…hmmm!) Together, we’ll learn about Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and life with a sense of joy and fun.

I share this ECC experience with you because one of our goals at TBS as a vibrant Jewish community is to engage people in joyful Jewish living and learning, to experience that sense of “oneg” – joy – on a regular basis. Our youth exemplify this goal with joyous abandon.

Our students model the teachings from the book of Isaiah which describe Shabbat as a “day of delight” (Isaiah 58:13), a time to find pleasure in refraining from work, embracing spiritual and communal connections. When we gather for Shabbat and our Oneg following, we are living out the lessons of the rabbis of the Talmud who like to say that Shabbat is a taste of the “world to come”, a day when we’re released from the constraints of the material world, leading to a state of elevated “oneg – joy.”

Experiencing true joy, true oneg, can also lead us to work for a better world at large. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “Give the world your love, your service, your healing, but you can also give it your joy. This, too, is a great gift.” (The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2016).

TBS has many opportunities to experience “oneg” in the next few weeks:

We invite you to join us for our joyful Family Shabbat and Oneg with Bill Shafton and me tonight at 6:00 pm;

Torah study tomorrow morning at 9:15 am.

Bring the gift of “oneg” to those who are less fortunate by making a delicious and nutritious meal with Monica’s Mitzvah Meals, this Sunday at 8:30 am. Click here to volunteer to help.

Please see below and watch the Shavuon and our other email notices for additional programs which will lift your spirit, elevate your heart, and instill a sense of oneg on Shabbat, our Holy Days and every day.

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