A more personal reflection…

This week the Torah talks about all of the commandments that the Jews receive from G-d at Mount Sinai. So this week I am choosing to reflect on why keeping Shabbat is one of the ten commandments and what this means for how we live our lives in the 21st century.

The Text:

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days Adonai made heaven and earth and sea—and all that is in them—and then rested on the seventh day; therefore Adonai blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-13)

The Analysis:

Shabbat is declared as a day that shall be kept holy. The story of Bereshit (creation) is referenced in the commandment to show that God was able to construct the entire world in six days. Then on the seventh day he rested signifying the “rest” to be as important as the previous days of work. Why is it that having one day a week is so important to God? How is it that we often forget the importance of rest in our own lives?

Many people have tried to interpret, and re-interpret how Jews “keep Shabbat”. Every denomination within Judaism may have a different definition of work, and rest. It seems that people get lost in questions of what you can and cannot do on Shabbat. All are interpretations of Torah at different points throughout history. As new technology became available, Rabbis decided if the use of these advance divices qualified as work. They debated the use of light, computers, televisions, stoves, and heat. Another added layer is creation; since God didn’t “create” anything on Shabbat, those who observe Shabbat must cease from creation, or in Hebrew melakha.

Rather then a set list of rules, instead, shouldn’t the focus be what would make this day “holy”, as God has commanded us to do. What are times or environments in which we feel holy? Or spiritual? Are there activities that make us feel connected to the world around us as it is, instead of trying to change it? How can we just be in the world, at peace, whole, complete? Isn’t seeing how far we’ve come and how fruitful our work has been equally as important as doing the work itself?

I think Shabbat has the ability to mean something different for everyone. Just as the Rabbis have interpreted the torah and come up with halakha, or Jewish laws surrounding the practice of Shabbat, I think that individuals can interpret for themselves what would feel restful in their own lives. With the central thought being: since God is holy, and kept Shabbat, Shabbat is to be sanctified, and observing Shabbat in turn makes his people holy, and therefore closer to God.

For me, Shabbat is a day where I make space for reflection, rest, and community. When thinking about how keeping Shabbat as a reform Jew would be both manageable for me, while at the same time not isolating myself from friends and family, I choose to interpret the language of the Torah for myself. “You shall not do any work”, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”. In this way I can create my own definitions of what feels like work, and what feels holy. When something new arises I try and decide whether it feels like work or rest, is the task something I enjoy, is creation involved, etc. In almost every possible task there can be room for debate. Transportation, money, light, hot water, cooking, and many more. Rabbis have spent time offering interpretations of text and creating laws of how Jews should approach tasks in order to be in compliance with observing Shabbat. Those who consider themselves to identify with a specific movement of Judaism may feel that their Shabbat observances be in tune with that of their movement, ie. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc. I think the lessons we can draw from the actual text itself is much more significant then getting lost in the different halakah and it’s interpretations, where we may lose the goal of Shabbat all together.

The most important part is making Shabbat feel like a day that is separated from all other days of the week. Where the focus of the entire day is holiness, and presence with the world as it currently is. By eliminating work on Shabbat I never feel I have to be anywhere but where I am in that moment. Shabbat has had only a positive impact on my life thus far, I feel as if I’ve given myself the gift of time. When we are able to connect with each other, share holy space, and allow ourselves time in turn we remember what it is to be a holy people.

With all that we have available at our fingertips now, it is easy to forget the importance of spending time with our family, friends, and ourselves. Nowadays people are constantly connected to the larger world; we may forget what it is like to simply take in the world around us, by being outside, engaging in discussions, or reading something we enjoy. Instead we are constantly distracting ourselves from being fully present in our lives with gadgets and rushing from one thing to the next. Let Shabbat be a reminder to not just let the world pass you by but take time to remember what makes your world holy. Who are the people, and what are the things that you enjoy most? Are you making time for these people and things in your life? This upcoming Shabbat take a few hours to unplug, unwind and be present with people and the world without multitasking. Giving your full attention to something signifies that you find it important, why not devote your importance to the people/ things you care about? For those of you who celebrate Shabbat weekly, or once in awhile, what is the impact you feel it has on your life?

There has been a lot of recent talk about people being too connected to our appliances/ internet/ social media and substituting real interactions with our online interactions…

Read more….

Not paying attention even to our emails: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=multitasking&st=Search

Or our relationships:http://www2.wnct.com/news/2010/jun/07/distracted-gadgets-are-they-affecting-your-relatio-ar-212972/

Could we be sacrificing our lives when we drive while distracted? http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/technology/series/driven_to_distraction/index.html?scp=4&sq=multitasking%20and%20internet&st=cse

Or causing serious mental health issues by spending excessive time on the web: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2008234,00.html

Some reading/ resources on Shabbat…

Books about Shabbat: http://www.judaism.com/books/shabbat.asp

Lecture at JTS Thursday February 17th. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/books/review/Goldstein-t.html

What to do about reading an e-book on Shabbat: http://www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/jewish_techs/cuddling_up_e_book_shabbos

Sabbath Manifesto, keeping Shabbat made easy... http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/