Of Cholent and Queens

buckinghamOK, I’ll admit it: Royalty these days is nothing but a puff of smoke and mirrors. But there I was, in the holy city of Jerusalem, a grandmother and retired community rebbetzin, glued to a small, borrowed TV on a Friday afternoon—trying to watch the Royal Wedding.

Well, who doesn’t love a wedding? And here was one that encompassed a Cinderella-type fairy tale into the bargain (commoner marries prince). And of course my former fashion-designer self was curious about the wedding gown: what would it look like, who designed it? And the hats of the royal guests! Bright, wide-brimmed, elegant, retro—plus fascinator veils redolent of the fifties that I recall as a young woman. And I was relieved that the wedding gown, with its lacy long sleeves, was relatively modest.

But what was I doing watching all this pageantry on an erev Shabbat? Shouldn’t I have been doing something less frivolous than watching a TV wedding, even if it was royalty? Surely there were more important things to do on a Friday afternoon!

And then I recalled that some years ago I had the opportunity to see the Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace as they honor their monarch every day. We also visited the Royal Stables where we saw the magnificent horses and the stunning, old-fashioned gilded carriages, which are still in use for occasions of state, like this wedding. I remembered once learning that it is important to see royalty on this earth, to experience the trappings that attend human sovereignty, in order to instill in us a sense of awe and appreciation for Divine Sovereignty—so that when we recite “Melech haolam,” “King of the universe,” in our routine blessings, we have some inkling of what we are saying.

Indeed, when the Queen of England entered the cathedral, the entire assemblage rose to their feet, and eight gloriously uniformed trumpeters gave her a triumphant regal salute. It was very moving, this tribute to an earthly monarch, and it helped me imagine the trumpets resounding in the ancient Jerusalem Temple, lehavdil, as well as the mighty sounds of the heavenly trumpets. With that in mind, I joined the two billion nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine other viewers that afternoon.

The ceremonies were enthralling, echoing the venerable monarchies of old—and, not incidentally for our day, reiterating the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. But that little borrowed TV was very erratic. The images kept sliding up and down the screen, and I was viewing not one but several princes, not one but several royal brides.

In an effort to improve the reception, I pushed the TV backwards on the end table. Suddenly, I heard a heavy thud on the floor. Looking down, I saw to my consternation a fan-shaped arrangement of the sacred books that had been inadvertently swept off the table: a siddur, a Talmud volume, books of insights by Nachmanides and the Gaon of Vilna, a Chumash containing twenty-five classic commentaries—all the material my husband had prepared for Shabbat study had fallen to the floor. They were now staring up at me in rebuke, saying, “For this you shoved us off the table?”

Fully chastened by these beloved holy volumes, I decided immediately to abandon temporal royalty and to prepare instead for my own Queen, the Shabbat HaMalkah. The dashing Prince William, the lovely bride Catherine, the stately Queen of England, the giant horses, the ancient carriages, the majestic Buckingham Palace—all would have to be shoved aside. My own Shabbat Queen was on her way. She would not be accompanied by earthly pomp and circumstance, by impressive trumpets and gilded carriages, but she would be attended by heavenly angels and Divine harmonies. And, unlike an ordinary queen, I wouldn’t have to go to her palace. She was coming to mine.

I snapped off the TV, rushed back into the kitchen, put my chicken in the oven, and plugged in the cholent pot.

Estelle Feldman, together with her husband, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, served Atlanta’s Beth Jacob Congregation for forty years. A graduate fashion designer, she has published numerous articles including “The Role of the Rebbetzin” (Jewish Action [winter 2008]). The Feldmans currently live in Jerusalem.

This article was featured in the Fall 2011 issue of Jewish Action.
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