I recently went to Jewish camp for the first time. The food was great, I wasn’t homesick, and there were no lanyards to be found anywhere – although there were some yummy s’mores. There are some advantages to being a camper in one’s 40s! Okay, so it wasn’t exactly traditional Jewish summer camp. Instead, I went on a Shabbat retreat to a peaceful spot in Marine on St. Croix with 17 other congregants from my shul.The program was a traditional shabbaton, Reform style. We davened, we learned, and we sang. Because it was Shabbat, we rested. And we ate. A few of us danced, and all of us laughed – a lot! And I found that in going away from my home, my shul and my regular life, I was able to pass through a portal and enter sacred time. It was delicious.
While getting away from it all can be a way to super-charge Shabbat observance, for the most part Shabbat takes place within the contours of our regular lives. Its availability, every seven days without fail, and its proximity are what make Shabbat what it is. Whether you consider yourself shomer Shabbat or “nowhere” Shabbat, setting aside a day every week for rest, refreshment and reflection is beneficial. It’s not just good for your spirit; it also supports good, healthy living.
The essence of Shabbat is, of course, rest. In Genesis (B’resheit) it is written that G-d created the world in six days, and on the seventh day G-d rested. Our lives are stuffed with obligations that must be met: earning a living, shopping, cleaning, taking part in civic life. Our culture highly values industrious activity and we often define ourselves by the work we do. Rest is rarely built into the game plan.
Even our leisure activity looks a lot like work, as we squint at our laptops and shoot the breeze with our friends through the words we type with our thumbs. There is a cool social movement called Sabbath Manifesto. This group promotes a non-sectarian campaign to slow down and improve the quality of daily life in a hectic world by observing Shabbat. It’s harder than you might think. Many of us (I definitely include myself in this number) become addicted to the rush of information and communication that pass through our consciousness every day. Yet, unlike our smart phones, we can replenish our energy when we unplug from the grid. If we can just work up the nerve to put the gadget down. And leave it down.
By turning away from the outside world just a little bit we have the opportunity to turn toward one another. We take the time to have long, leisurely meals with friends and family, go for a walk in nature, play a game of Scrabble. And then there is the tradition of Shabbos sex! Taking time to be with the people we care about without having to rush to the next activity is a wonderful gift. Our relationships nurture us, ground us, and give our life meaning. Yet, the rush of the world can force us to focus on the things we need to do rather than the way we need to be with each other. Taking time to nurture and deepen our connections with the people in our lives is an investment that goes directly to the bottom line of life satisfaction.
Creating Space in Time
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has famously described Shabbat as a sanctification of time. In a material world where the fruits of our labors take up physical space, creating a temporal space for our own nourishment could be seen as a radical act. Shabbat provides the opportunity for us to set a boundary between the demands of the world and the well-being of our spirit. Certainly, religious people may use some of this time for prayer, but each of us can make fruitful use of holy time regardless of whether or not we are engaged in traditionally “religious” activity.
Shabbat is an aspect of Jewish life that can be shared with the entire world. It is available to anyone who wants it; however they want to invite it into their life. Stopping, resting, connecting, and taking time apart from the demands of life gives us a chance – every week – to let go of thing things that weigh us down. We are free, if only for a day, to become the best version of ourselves that we can imagine.
Filed Under: Being Jewish