A few weeks ago at Friday night services, the rabbi considered the meaning of Shabbat rest. On Shabbat we refrain from creation, enjoying the gift of living in the present for a day. We prepare eagerly for a taste of eternity, cooking, cleaning, inviting friends to join us--and suddenly it's sunset.
That's when we have to lay aside our expectations. Because if we enter Friday evening still anticipating what those 25 hours might bring, we're not truly observing Shabbat. We need to let go of our hopes and wishes, whether for the quality of the soup we just made, the aliyah we're been practicing over and over again, or of our lives in coming weeks, and simply be with what we have, what we and God have made in partnership. There are six other days in the week to fix what is not yet perfect. Shabbat is for sitting back and reminding ourselves that what already does exist, flaws and all, is pretty amazing.
It's not easy. (For adults, anyway; I think back to when I was a kid, and finishing my homework meant perfect freedom. Then one day when I was about ten, I had a flash of insight—I remember the exact moment, sitting at the kitchen table eating a peanut butter sandwich—when I realized that growing up meant reaching a tipping point where responsibilities could never be put aside. There would always be something, someone, latched on and wanting more. I couldn't decide if I liked or feared this fate, but knew I had to continue having fun and acting like a child until its inevitable descent.) We drive ourselves crazy trying to reclaim a time before the noise began. It's a paradox of being Jewish; we're people of action. Study isn't complete until we put knowledge into use and help make the world a better place. But one day a week we're directed to refrain from the most important part of our jobs as human beings and act like we're boss, resting in the image of God and allowing what has already been created to flow like a stream over and within us.
A child might walk around in her father's big shoes and imagine what it it's like to be all grown up. Shabbat is for the first part of that experience only; the imagining follows later on. Shabbat is for the senses, so that during the week we can filter those tastes, sounds, and images into imagination and, ultimately, action.