I’m late for shul. My kids stayed up about four hours after their usual bedtime for the Shabbos meal, and woke up approximately 15 minutes later than usual.
We couldn’t find the Shabbos outfit we needed; there were holes in all the girls’ stockings; my son wanted to wear his jean shorts and sneakers instead of his expensive Shabbos shoes I searched the city for; and my baby has already pulled out his ponytail, untucked his shirt and somehow got chocolate on his pants.
But, finally, we are on our way.
I’m pushing the stroller and herding the other kids down the street.
“It’s smelly, mommy,” whines my six-year-old. We are walking past a spilled bag of garbage. I see chicken bones, dirty diapers and some other stuff I don’t even want to think about.
I silently pray that my tactile-seeking child doesn’t start to explore in a more hands-on way.
“Mama, look flowers,” my son points to some weeds pushing their way up through the sidewalk cracks.
We all stop to admire the tenacity of this white flower that somehow poked itself up through the cement.
There’s a man pushing a huge cart of recycling in front of us. I kind of hope that today isn’t a day of questions. My kids ask questions about the colour of people’s skins, about death, and about what happened before there was a G-d.
I love talking with them, but sometimes it’s hard to explain the intense poverty we pass on the streets of Johannesburg.
During the week, we are sheltered in our big car behind our tinted windows, and we race past the homeless sleeping on mattresses on the corner, the beggars asking for change, and the poor sifting through the garbage, looking for something to eat or sell.
But, on Shabbos, we walk slowly on the street.
We see the beauty of the world, the flowers poking up through the sidewalk, or a rainfall of purple Jacaranda flowers.
And we also walk over holes and cracks in the sidewalk, sidestepping broken glass and poverty.
Maybe that’s what G-d wants.
On Shabbos, we are supposed to take a step back from our work of transformation and remind ourselves of what we are supposed to be doing.
Re-centre ourselves and refocus on our goal.
We are outside in the world. The world that G-d has entrusted to us, to nurture and to protect.
The world we are supposed to be making into a home for G-d.
And so we are reminded of the work that’s still to be done. Every time we pass a blossoming tree, we see the fruits of our efforts, but also, all that is broken and incomplete and in need of fixing.
From the cracks on the sidewalk and the garbage to be picked up, to the children and adults begging on street corners across the city.
This world – it’s everyone’s job to repair.
Every week, when we walk to shul, let’s notice the world around us. It’s not zooming by at 60km an hour, or on the periphery as we try and meet our fitness goals.
The 10-minute walk to shul is my opportunity to notice what’s going on right outside my door.
There’s a Chassidic idea that G-d places you in the very space that’s waiting for you to elevate it.
So these roads that I walk, these routes that I take, that’s my space.
And there’s lots of work to be done.