To attempt to describe a Lechu V’Nelcha Shabbaton is daunting. Maybe, if I had never attended one, my job would be easier, as I would not sense how far my depiction falls short. Having joined twice, I wonder if I can succeed in capturing that elusive, captivating atmosphere, that striving for more, the joy, the welcome, the sense of being in the best possible place.
The entire Shabbos is a progression of highlights. “Quickly bentch slowly,” has become the standing joke, as the meals no one is in a rush to end must draw to a close; the schedule is full.
The experience begins on the bus; old faces mingle with new. Warm greetings are exchanged, and those who reminisce about last time take a moment to promise newcomers that they will yet thank their friends who urged them to come. Someone shares a pack of mentos, another passes out Tehillim hamechulak, laughter and anticipation make the ride pass quickly. Even I, the baby on my lap clearly marking me an outside guest, am introduced around. By the time we arrive, we have already formed a common bond. We are not just one small contingent among buses and cars that pull up beside us, but already we have each other.
A royal welcome awaits us in the lobby. Welcome packages, a little gift, keys to our rooms. An oversized banner with the Lechu V’Nelcha logo stands proudly to the side, signs direct us to kugel and cake in the dining room, and the entire hotel is permeated by the smell of good food and the sparkle of smiles. Girls scurry hither and thither, attempting to take it all in. Downstairs to the pool, exercise facilities that way. Explore the expansive grounds if you have time, and don’t forget to eat!
And then, suddenly, it is Shabbos. The exhiliration is indescribable. I tzind lecht on a designated table. Clutching my siddur, I enter the makeshift shul somewhat hesitantly. All these girls, in their Shabbos finery, with kedushah radiating from within, hardly seem the same as the ones I met before. The feeling of strangeness overtakes me again, and I chide myself for my thoughts. Of course, they are the same girls I met before. I open my siddur, taking my time to let Shabbos envelop me until I, too, am in touch with my neshamah yeseirah. Cautiously, I peek about, and this time, I feel in sync with my surroundings. I catch someone’s eye and we exchange smiles. Now, I am ready.
Not a moment too soon. Two girls have stepped up and have begun singing Kabbalas Shabbos. Later, when I thank them, they tell me it’s “the Gateshead Kabbalas Shabbos.” The niggun has resounded in my mind at every Kabbalas Shabbos I have said since.
As we sing lecha Dodi, the words feel new. “Livshi bigdei sifartech, ami”, “my Nation, dress in your most splendid clothes.” Surely this doesn’t only refer to dressing up for Shabbos, but also to showing Hashem our splendour, to exhibiting our finest examples of living al pi Torah. And I think, as I daven, that that is Lechu V’Nelcha, having assembled for an entire Shabbos of chizuk and growth in Torah, middos and yiras Shamayim. Where else in the world? Who else are the bigdei sifarteich of klal Yisrael? What a privilege to witness what must be an incomparable nachas ruach for Hakodosh Baruch Hu.
Rebbetzin Fink welcomes us to the Shabbaton; then it is time for Rabbi Miller’s first shiur. No question, Rabbi Miller’s shiurim deserve an article of their own, with their distinctive blend of depth and clarity, presented through challenging questions, stories and humor. Each shiur is a masterpiece, each plumbs the mysteries of a specific topic, and leaves the listener enriched in knowledge, perspective and appreciation for the wisdom of Torah.
After the shiur, discussion is lively. It takes a sharp mind to keep up, and those who may have missed an integral point or two clamor for clarification. Opinions bounce about as we head towards the dining room, and smatterings of earnest conversation can still be overheard as we line up to wash.
It is a privilege for me to be seated with the most incredible women. Every Lechu V’Nelcha Shabbaton is graced by the presence of esteemed, beloved personalities, who not only speak and give workshops, but also make themselves available throughout the Shabbos for informal (and sometimes very late-night) chats. In small groups, or one on one, it’s an opportunity to ask for objective advice from women who are steeped in Torah. The meal passes quickly as I bask in the wisdom and wit of great minds and souls.
After the meal, I expect to be tired, but find myself instead on a high. I take a stroll with a friend, join a table in animated discussion with Mrs. Yael Kaisman, and then pause to exchange a short Gut Shabbos with Rebbetzin Fink, who by some miracle, is alone. Of course, not for long. We are soon joined by a pair of friends, and then others settle comfortably around. Morning may be creeping up on us, but sleep is still a long way off.
How everyone makes it to Shacharis is beyond me. My alarm clock is little nechamah, theirs is only their fierce determination not to miss a moment of this intense Shabbos. The kiddush after davening looks more like a wedding smorgasbord, which is a good thing, as we need our mental faculties in top working order for Rabbi Miller’s next shiur. And so we progress throughout the Shabbos, alternately feeding our bodies and our souls, and sometimes both at once, with gourmet food accompanied by zemiros, an enticing selection of workshops, oneg Shabbos, and Shalosh Seudos.
Still, with all that behind us, the climax is yet to come. The energy that has accumulated over Shabbos is explosive, and it is about to be channeled into an evening so powerful that its transformative effects will linger for many months. The dancing and laughing, the magic of the kumzitz that is still going strong when the first rays of sun appear in the hazy sky, are the highlight of our time together.
As I settle in to my seat for the bus ride home, I have the unusual feeling of having given myself a gift, this gift of a Shabbos with Lechu V’Nelcha. For one Shabbos, I have stepped out of everyday life and entered a world of unparalleled sincerity and commitment. I have tasted a spiritual utopia, encountered a standard by which to measure my own performance. As the bus pulls out, I wrap the still-fresh inspiration around myself like a cozy shawl. I feel no need to wave out the window…I am taking the whole Shabbos home with me; there’s no reason to say good-bye.