by Margie Pensak
Two years ago, Mishpacha magazine writer, Azriela Jaffe, was so moved by a story she had read in the Yated about the power of chatzos (being ready for Shabbos by Friday mid-day), she has never missed being ready for chatzos since. Reorganizing her life, and her week, was so life-changing, and brought so much kavod Shabbos into her home, she wrote an article about it for Mishpacha. Judging by the droves of letters the magazine subsequently received asking for Azriela’s help with being ready by chatzos, it obviously hit a chord in readers around the world who also craved greater serenity on erev Shabbos, and/or were looking for a new practice to bring zechus in trying times. Today, Azriela is known around the world as the “Chatzos Lady”, and the international movement she, in turn, inspired, stands—as of this writing—at 180 members strong.
The seeds for Azriela’s new commitment were planted two years prior to her reading the Yated article. “On a typical harried erev Shabbos afternoon, I was late to candle lighting,” admits Azriela, a Highland Park, New Jersey resident. “I had fallen prey to the, ‘I’ll get one more thing done’ yetzer hara. On that day, I decided that from then on, I would bring Shabbos in with candle lighting ten minutes earlier than the posted time. In our home, if my daughter sees I’m busy and might not make that time, she’ll say, ‘Ima, hurry up or you’ll be late for being early!’ We haven’t been late for lighting since we began this practice.
“The seeds for chatzos were planted in me one Friday morning. My children did not look forward to erev Shabbos. Friday was correlated with Shabbos chores. As a household without professional cleaning help (my choice, my husband keeps offering we get it, but I have my reasons. . . ), I enroll my children in helping for Shabbos preparations. Perhaps all-told, each of them was working for an hour, and so enough with the whining, pick up the broom! But one day, I heard one of my children groan, “Oy, tonight is Shabbos. I wish it wasn’t Shabbos!” She quickly clarified – it was the cleaning she dreaded, not Shabbos, but still, it hurt my heart. For my kids’ sake, I had to disconnect erev Shabbos from cleaning.
“During this time, I read in the Yated about the practice some Jews have of embellishing a mitzvah as a zechus for a personal need. Although my children are pre-teen, all of the “shidduchim crisis” articles and letters to the editor were weighing on my mind. The idea formulated in my mind: I’ll be ready for Shabbos by chatzos every week, and when I am, I’ll ask Hashem that this extra effort be a zechus for shidduchim for my children.”
To pull off chatzos, Azriela spreads out her Shabbos prep and cleaning all week long. “Motzei Shabbos and Sunday became times for menu planning, grocery shopping, and baking challah or desserts for the following week,” explains Azriela. “I make one or two dishes for Shabbos each day of the week so that all Shabbos cooking is done by Thursday. The children help cook or clean the house on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. My husband loves coming home from work on Thursday evening with the table set for Shabbos, and the house in Shabbos-mode. Then I spend Friday morning with all last minute cleaning and food preparation. On an early Shabbos, I might need to finish as early as 11:40 A.M. For summer Shabbosim, I get all the way till 1 P.M! Truthfully, the last few minutes were important a year and a half ago when I started keeping to this practice, but now, it’s so much a part of my life, I am usually done even before 11:00 AM each erev Shabbos.
“At the designated chatzos time, I symbolically and literally put down the broom, close my eyes, and daven to Hashem, asking that my dedication to this practice be considered a zechus for my children’s upcoming shidduchim,” says Azriela. “My children know of this practice and it comforts them. When they come off the bus, it’s after chatzos, so there’s nothing expected of them other than a pre-Shabbos shower and not messing up the house. When my husband enters the home an hour before Shabbos, he’s not encountering a harried, exhausted Ima with a short fuse, but a relaxed, clean, beautiful house with happy children and the smells of Shabbos.”
So powerful was Azriela’s personal account of taking on chatzos, it was even mentioned by Rabbi Yissocher Frand in this year’s annual Shabbos Shuva drasha which we delivered all over the USA. It was after this event that I contacted my fellow Mishpacha writer, who encouraged me to join the email-based chatzos support group for women who wish to join her in this practice, despite the fact that I had hopes of making smaller strides than chatzos in my Shabbos observance.
Since Rabbi Frand’s drasha, even more women from around the United States, as well as those from other countries, such as Israel, Australia, England, South Africa, and Canada, have joined together to support one another in chizzuk and concrete suggestions. These range from chatzos friendly Shabbos recipes, to how to keep the toddlers from wrecking the Shabbos table set on Thursday night, to recommended shiurum to listen to while folding the laundry – on Tuesday – so that it doesn’t interfere with Shabbos preparation. “Close friendships have been formed across the Internet, as frum women from varied backgrounds come together with the same goals,” notes Azriela. “Women who have been observing Shabbos for over 50 years are changing their practice, and their married children and grandchildren are learning about chatzos. Shalom has increased between husband and wife, love and honor for Shabbos has grown exponentially, and we draw Moshiach closer to us by the day, as this group, and all the people they touch, elevate Shabbos observance to a whole new level. In fact, the support group by email has been so powerful, we started a chatzos support phone hotline for those women unable to access email, or even, those chatzos emailers who wish to connect with one another by phone as well as email. Callers can touch base during a selected half hour each day other than Shabbos.
Rachel Lewin is one of several “chatzosers” who reside in Baltimore. “I am finding that Friday afternoons are relaxed and fairly calm…like a Sunday afternoon. Before joining the group, after lighting, I was busy chopping salad, setting the table, and preparing the first course. Now, since I’m more organized, after lighting I have time to daven and play with my two kids (ages five and two). Also, when my husband arrives home from work, he usually has very little to do, except his personal preparations. This means that he often has time to go to shul early and learn. So I’ve seen that the advance preparations in the physical realm have tremendous benefits in ruchnius. Oh, and I work outside the home about 25 hours per week (including Fridays!), so people shouldn’t think that this is only for stay-at-home moms!!”
Yael Yunger, of Beitar, Israel, was further inspired to strive for chatzos because of something she learned. “I heard that on erev Shabbos the Satan tries very hard to make machlokes between a husband and wife; as licht bentching draws nearer, he “dances” because the tension levels in the home are rising,” relates Yael. “By making chatzos, you are telling the Satan, there is no room for you in this house, because all those last-minute nerves disappear because you’ve planned ahead and, instead, you can go into Shabbos with an increased shalom bayis.
“Last week was our second week doing chatzos, and when the kids woke up on Friday morning, the house was clean and the table was already set. My five year old said to me, “Mommy, when Tatty comes home he’s going to think it’s already time to say ‘Kiddush’. As for me, I’ve found that chatzos has helped eliminate the erev Shabbos panic—because by Friday morning I’m almost done, and on Thursday, it’s still too early to panic because I don’t feel like, ‘Oh no, I have to bentch licht in X hours!’”
Rivkie Levitin of Chicago took on chatzos after attending a weekly shiur, based on the sefer of Rav Shimshon Pinkus z’l, called Shabbbos Malkesah. “One week we learned that the Shelah Hakodosh interpreted, “Lo sevaaru eish b’moshvoseichem” (You shall not burn a fire in your homes) to mean not to get angry,” explains Rivkie. “The word “Lo” has a gematriah of 31 and the Shelah therefore learned from those words, that for 31 hours of Shabbos (beginning from chatzos) one should not become angry. I began looking into the Chatzos group afterwards as a means to attain that goal.
“Although I am not currently doing chatzos all the way, I have taken upon myself small changes,” continues Rivkie. “The most notable one was that since I began we have been setting our dining room table every Thursday night. It really adds a wonderful aura of Shabbos, and brings extra peace and calmness into my home on Fridays–even the shortest Fridays of the year. I can vouch that even ‘half-baked’ chatzos has a tremendous hashpa’ah (influence) on the family, and the children all know that the reason I chose to do it was to bring an extra dose of sholom bayis to my home. I have a busy schedule and cannot keep up with the rest of the nashim tzidkoniyos (righteous women) who are able to be ready for Shabbos from chatzos, and I don’t always have the time to prepare for Shabbos a little every day, or even midweek, but nonetheless I have still seen results. Most of all, I have ‘met’ some wonderful ladies through this venture. The group is comprised of many women whose common goal is to increase kovod Shem Shamayim in this world, under the leadership of the indefatigable Azriela Jaffe.”
Yocheved Krems, of Yerushalayim, explains: “I’ve been part of the group since shortly after it started. I had always run around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off right up to shkiyah. Unfortunately I didn’t always make it either!!! When my kids were little, erev Shabbos was a scream-it-all. There WAS no kedushas Shabbos. I am a baalas teshuvah and I never absorbed what the beauty of Shabbos was. It was a lot of work getting into and a lot of work in the middle and a lot of work cleaning up from. And I resented it a bit. After many, many years, I learned more and grew more and when I read the chatzos article by Azriela, I was touched. When I read that a group was forming, I was actually a bit jealous that I hadn’t started it!!! But I knew that I wanted in, even though I didn’t dream I would ever “make chatzos.” Why? cuz it was another deadline, only earlier. Over the years my husband had asked me not to cook after chatzos, but I could never do it. You do not want to know how many times I was processing something after lichtsen, because how could we get by without the baba ganoush or Arabic salad?
“I’ve come to learn that chatzos is not about another deadline,” continues Yocheved. “I could cut back and not do and do earlier and I’d STILL rush into licht bentching. What HAS changed is not the kids and not my husband…the difference is in my attitude. I’m calmer, more relaxed all day, erev Shabbos. I don’t generally stay up till three in the morning making Shabbos (when I DO make it) and I do cut back what I do. We make a simpler menu – too simple sometimes. But because I work a lot, that’s just what we do right now. Now, seven months after I began the process of working towards chatzos, I am calmer, the kids help a little more (I have three teenagers…), and I do not run all over town shopping on Friday only to come home and run myself ragged preparing for Shabbos. I don’t always “make chatzos” but chatzos has made me a much calmer person.”
Nechama Safra, of Moshav Beit Chilkiya, in Israel, who was also inspired by Azriela’s article, feels, “The calm that settles over our home Friday afternoon is priceless. It creates the perfect atmosphere for accepting Shabbos with joy.
Since I started all this six months ago, I actually accomplish more and the food is more delicious. This is probably the special bracha that comes with being ready early for the Shabbos Queen. We decide beforehand that Queen Shabbos is more important than that extra kugel or salad and you know what? She pays you back by making everything great. Last week, in a quiet moment, my husband said to me, ‘You know, I think you’ve become a better person since keeping chatzos.’ He meant more spiritual, I think. It was a great, unexpected compliment.”
“Even in South Africa,” says South African chatzos member, Shuli Mirkin, “with more domestic help than elsewhere, chatzos encourages a mind set that Shabbos is coming and that changes one’s whole week. It is the anticipation that is generated from that mind set and the practical preparation that results thereof, which ultimately lifts one into Shabbos kodesh…and even more, it generates a huge desire to be mekadesh Shabbos more and more each week.”
How does the Chatzos Lady envision her own chatzos observance when her children have grown? “When, Im Yirtzeh Hashem, I walk my last child to the chuppah, I don’t believe that the “making chatzos” commitment will stop. I’ve discovered the real beauty in it. Shabbos is on my mind every day, all week long. It has to be, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My children have now grown to see being ready by chatzos as normal, and I hope I am blessed to merit grandchildren who know no other way than to greet the Shabbos Queen with serenity.”
Azriela Jaffe will be the guest speaker for the Talmudical Academy’s upcoming tea, on Sunday, April 18, at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion, 8 p.m. If you wish to enroll in the chatzos email support group, email firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate if you wish regular or digest ( summary version).
This article is scheduled to appear in the April issue of Baltimore’s Where, What, When.