Friday, February 22, 2008

637. On Shabbat

This evening at services the rabbi spoke about the "yes" of Shabbat, which is often overshadowed by the "no"--all the things we can't do. But there is so much we can: rest, study, enjoy the company of our loved ones, choose words more carefully than usual, be the kind of person we wanted to be during the week, but were too busy. I was reminded of this 2003 New York Times article:

Bring Back the Sabbath

in which the author outlines the history of Puritan and Christian Sabbath observance in the U.S. and its strong messages of "no," which feel especially oppressive when government-mandated. She rediscovered the Sabbath of her Jewish heritage (much as I did) and found the concept liberating, all the stuff about religion aside. She acknowledges that it's difficult to slow down when speeding up is the prevailing culture, and wishes for a universal Sabbath to make it easier to practice what she preaches. She concludes:

What was Creation's climactic culmination? The act of stopping. Why should God have considered it so important to stop? Rabbi Elijah of Vilna put it this way: God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only once we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so. The implication is clear. We could let the world wind us up and set us to marching, like mechanical dolls that go and go until they fall over, because they don't have a mechanism that allows them to pause. But that would make us less than human. We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.

I could not agree more with these worlds, but was also bemused by the overall tone of the article: Shabbat is daring, different, and just waiting for you to discover it. And if everyone does, it will become cool--but at present, although wonderful, it's a little weird. And so are you, if you choose to observe.

This recent post on BlogHer was along the same lines:

Starting a Sabbath Practice for Emotional Well-Being

The author also suggests that Shabbat is radical, and dares us to try it:

What if we took some time every week simply to rest? What would happen if we picked up the ancient practice of Sabbath-keeping?

I had to chuckle (in a good way) at this line, as well. What would happen? Well, you'd be like millions of Jews who stop completely and thoroughly every Shabbat, and millions more (like me) who acknowledge the day of rest to other degrees. Rather than dusting off some ancient idea, you'd be following a living, modern practice. I observe Shabbat for many reasons, not that least that I would otherwise find an excuse to work seven days a week, which I know would kill me, but would chose do anyway because I am vulnerable to the pressures and rewards of society. These days I am sane and counter-cultural, the term used by the rabbis at my synagogue for this concept of stopping--of taking a break from trying to improve creation, and instead sitting back and simply enjoying it for a day. Of living in "yes" instead of "no," a good philosophy for all times of the week.

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