Help your family experience a sense of belonging.
by Tuvya Zaretsky | April 28 2023
If you are a partner in a Jewish-Gentile relationship, you’re not alone. A recent Pew study found that “among those [Jewish people] who have gotten married since 2010, 61% are intermarried.” But just because intermarriage is common doesn’t mean it’s easy.
No couple agrees on everything, but the differences may be even more profound in a cross-cultural relationship.
We wrote this guide for you! We’ve all felt that need to belong—to home, to God, and to each other. Coming home to Shabbat dinner can help you and your family experience that sense of belonging.
Here are 12 truths to guide you as you explore the healing practice of rest.
The need to hustle can be legitimate. You may be working long hours just to keep a roof over the children’s heads and bread on the table. Providing for your family may be keeping you very busy. Sometimes life involves a lot of hard work.
Until you try to apply the brakes, you may not even realize how fast your wheels are spinning. Adding a detour like Shabbat on your route may seem like too much trouble.
It’s a heroic thing just to get all the members of your household to apply their brakes together one night a week and join in a common activity. That’s why it may be helpful to think of Shabbat as something you’ve been invited into, rather than just one more “to-do.” And this invitation is for all the members of your family, whether they’re Jewish or Gentile.
Imagine shuffling down the sidewalk towards your home after a busy week. As you draw near the front door, you reach for the card in your jacket pocket. You remember what it says: “You are invited to Shabbat dinner.” When you walk through the door, you take a deep breath and unstrap your spinning wheels.
As you prepare for an evening with no agenda, you realize that having this full stop at the end of the week gives you and your mate a chance to let the mask of busyness fall off and encounter what’s real within one another.
A set-apart rest day was part of the original instructions that God gave to His people. But it wasn’t a mitzvah (commandment) just for mitzvah’s sake. Adonai explained, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you will be My people” (Leviticus 26:12 TLV). Shabbat, like the other commandments, was an invitation to relationship and was intended to instruct the people how to be united with each other and with God.
As members of a cross-cultural household, you and your mate are tasked with creating your own unique family culture. Shabbat can be part of that. And when you answer “yes” to the invitation to Shabbat, you are joining in a rhythm as ancient as the stars.
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.… On the seventh day God was finished with his work which he had made, so he rested” (Genesis 1:31; 2:2 CJB).
Why did God rest? Adonai is eternal and all powerful, so He didn’t rest because He was tired or had run out of ideas for things to create. He rested because His work was perfectly done, and He rested so that later, He could extend a hand and invite His children to do the same.
Later on in the Torah, God extends the invitation to Shabbat to the people of Israel—not because their work was ever perfectly done, but because His was. But before He gave Shabbat as a mitzvah, He introduced this nation that had just come out of back-breaking slavery to the idea of rest.
Shabbat, not just as a practice but as part of a lifestyle, may be the very thing it was always meant to be. L’chaim!
In Numbers chapter 2, God gave Moses the instructions for the locations of the camps of the tribes of Israel. The people were to camp to the east, south, north, and west of the Tent of Meeting (where God’s presence dwelt). If you were to draw this out on paper, you would see the Tent of Meeting like a nucleus in the center with the tribes spread out around it.
This new nation was to practice rest from physical work by laying it aside one day a week, just as they were to rest spiritually by camping around the Tabernacle like a unified cell with God as its nucleus.
Similarly, your Shabbat table can be a placeholder at the end of your week, a reminder of a lifestyle anchored in rest.
Before Shabbat was instituted, God called His people out into the desert. The waters of the Red Sea crashed down on our enemies, but when all Israel passed through on dry ground, our people didn’t only stop to breathe. They celebrated! “All the women went out after [Miriam] with tambourines and dancing, as [she] sang to them: Sing to Adonai, for He is highly exalted! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” (Exodus 15:20–21 TLV).
You and your family don’t have to walk through a literal Red Sea to feel relieved when you’ve come to the end of a busy week. Shabbat can be a chance to not just rest your weary souls, but to refresh them by celebrating. Truths #6–#9 may help you make your weekly Shabbat dinner a celebration.
Imagine sending smells from the oven that get everyone’s mouths watering. From the smallest family members to the biggest, they troop into the kitchen expectantly. You tell your spouse, “B’tiavon,” which is the Hebrew equivalent of “Bon appetit.”
What’s on the table for Shabbat dinner will look different depending on where you live and your family’s preferences, but one favorite among many families is homemade bread. You can search recipes for “challah” and even learn online how to braid it.
Don’t be afraid to try new things; part of the fun of a special weekly dinner is finding your own favorite family recipes to share together.
Our ancestors were reminded that bread alone wouldn’t satisfy them. In the uncertainty of the desert where the call to move the camp could come at any time, it must have been tempting to hoard supplies. Perhaps that’s why God reminded Moses, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of Adonai” (Deuteronomy 8:3 TLV).
If you and your family are open to reading from the Scriptures together, doing so in the midst of your own day-to-day uncertainty can be a special part of your Shabbat dinner.
A helpful thing to tell hungry children is, “On your plates, there is food for your body, and in this book, there is food for your mind and heart.”
Some Shabbat-related passages to read together include the creation story (see Truth #3) and Proverbs 3:5 (ESV), which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Family members may also like to take turns picking passages from Scripture or from a siddur to read aloud.
In one of his most famous songs, King David says, “I praise You, for I am awesomely, wonderfully made! Wonderful are Your works—and my soul knows that very well” (Psalm 139:14 TLV). David’s words make it sound as if his feet were dancing while he wrote this. Shabbat can be the perfect time to do just that—to play, to sing, to even have a dance party!
Part of the blessing of ceasing other distractions on Shabbat is that you may find time to do some of those relational things that tend to slide to the back burner during the week. Kick the soccer ball at the park with your son, write a letter to your daughter, leave the dishes in the sink, and sit on the front porch with your spouse.
While the Israelites were having an understandable panic attack at the edge of the Red Sea, Moses said, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still” (Exodus 14:14 NIV; emphasis added).
Another part of the Torah helps us understand what qualified Moses to lead the people. “Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3 TLV).
For those who are willing to try it, humility means coming to the Lord, maskless, and asking Him for the things you need. In other words: prayer.
One way both parents, no matter their backgrounds, can pray for their children is to read the Aaronic benediction together: “Adonai bless you and keep you! Adonai make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you! Adonai turn His face toward you and grant you shalom!” (Numbers 6:24–26 TLV).
Prayer may help remind you, like it did Moses, that God is able to fight battles that we cannot.
It’s Sabbath night. You and your family are finishing up dinner, getting ready to read or listen to music together. You settle into your chair and exhale—and then the dog vomits on the rug, the toddler falls out of his chair, and the neighbor knocks on the front door asking if you can help move a heavy piece of furniture! You take a sharp inhale, wondering if you’ll ever get this Shabbat thing right.
It’s interesting to note that when God said all of creation was tov meod (very good), He didn’t just mean dolphins, sunsets, and vast mountain ranges. He included every ish and isha (man and woman) in that description.
Remembering that an imperfect Adam and Eve were part of God’s family when He rested may help you breathe more easily during a less-than-perfect Shabbat night.
When the prophet Samuel went to Jesse’s home, he doubted God’s choice of king. But the Lord told him, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but Adonai looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 TLV). Samuel then anointed young David, who went on to endure both victories and trials in his colorful life.
Later, King David may have sung along with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.… Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:2–3,11, TLV).
Just as the psalmist didn’t write, “When the whole earth is at perfect peace, I will trust God,” so David didn’t wait until his own life was in order before coming to God. So you, too, can practice rest without waiting until you’ve crossed some invisible finish line to feel like you’ve earned it.
Your Shabbat has ended. You and your spouse are both beginning a new week of work. It’s Monday morning, but there’s a spring in your step. As you reach inside your jacket pocket for your keys, you notice that the invitation is still there. But you know you won’t have to wait a whole week to experience peace once again.
Shabbat is important as a weekly habit, but much like the challah that whets your appetite before the full meal, Shabbat is just an appetizer.
A purposeful Sabbath day, one day a week with your family, is important, but it’s only a window into the greater shalom that God has in store. Through the prophet Jeremiah, He promised,
I will bring [My city] health and healing, and I will surely heal them. I will reveal to them an abundance of shalom and truth. I will restore Judah from exile and Israel from exile, and will rebuild them, as in former times. I will also cleanse them from all their iniquity.… So [the nations] will fear and tremble because of all the good and for all the shalom that I do for it (Jeremiah 33:6–9 TLV).
God has promised you true and everlasting shalom. What would this promise fulfilled look like for you? What would it be like to come home to Shabbat every day?