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Vayak'heil (Exodus 35:1-38:20) -- The Spiritual Challenge

In Our Lives:

Where do we feel spiritual? Do we need rituals to feel spiritual? How do we physically or emotionally get to a place where our souls feel thoroughly nourished? Spirituality is individual and yet many may feel the ability to reach an inner peace when doing similar rituals or upon seeing similar sights. Unlike other religions Judaism doesn't have a specified place in which people travel towards on a journey, like the hajj towards Mecca for the Muslim faith. Nor does Judaism have a desirable mental state of achievement like complete "nirvana" for the Buddhist. There is no pilgrimage, or living person, that Jews feel hold their key to spirituality. Yet rituals exist that many Jews partake in and may feel helps them towards a collective feeling of holiness.

Our current world is constantly tuned in to our "gadgets"; computers, phones, and e-readers consume our days at work, home, or school. I find more people I know seem to be walking around in a daze or utterly dependent on their iPhone/iPad/ Blackberry for the latest media update. It becomes easy to forget what it is like to connect in person anymore, and even when we are in person the “gadget” has begun to take precedence! Spiritual connection either with ourselves or with others seems to be quickly becoming a thing of the past. Does anyone take the time anymore to sit and reflect? There is not necessarily a link between religion and spirituality, one does not need to be religious to be spiritual; you can have an innate sense of connectivity without participating in any religion. But, how do we expect to solve our own challenges anymore or find a way to see the bigger picture of our own lives if we are buried in updates of Jennifer Aniston’s new hairdo?


How do you highlight your values, and find meaning in your life? You may feel most in touch with your own and others spirits during meditation, or in a shared contemplative space, or even by engaging a friend or family member in deep conversation. It is all about reminding ourselves what is important to our well being so that we can prioritize what to make time for. Finding ways to be spiritual may help us figure out how to eliminate our stress, be present with nature, people, or our own thoughts. By allowing ourselves to be fully present we continue to strive towards our best selves. Try focusing on one thing fully, unitasking instead of multitasking. Reach out to those who may need to hear from you. Take comfort in the spaces around you. And allow the power of making time to change your outlook by allowing yourself the art of reflection. In other words: unplug and relax! You may find you learn more about the ways you do enjoy to spend your time then by losing all your time to updates which aren’t pertinent to your life and values. This week is national 'unplug' Shabbat. Join the challenge and take advantage of life before the cell phone. I unplug every week and find myself craving Shabbat every other day of the week. We live in a world where we are constantly accessible to work, school, and there is an expectation of an instant response. Imagine what making time for family and friends again would look like and how much your connections with others would strengthen.

From the Source:

Abraham Heshel, a famous Jewish philosopher argues in his famous book The Sabbath that Shabbat is a “sanctuary in time”. Meaning there is no specific physical place but rather for Jews the weekly gift of time allows us to find ourselves in a greater connected world, or Olam H’aba, the world to come. This past week the Torah portion Vayak'heil continues to talks about the creation of the mishkan/ or tabernacle. The tabernacle was a sanctuary which Jews built and prayed in after the exodus from Egypt. The past week’s piece of Torah talks about the elaborate process of engaging varying people’s skills, and finding extravagant fabrics to ordain their space with. Jewish law uses last week’s Torah portion to teach how to keep Shabbat by abstaining from the exact 39 activities that were done in the creation of the tabernacle. This is how we know the difference between work and rest, since work was used to build; our abstaining on Shabbat is equivocal with rest. While the tabernacle was constructed as a particularly holy place and adorned as such it now only remains in Jewish history. For Jews Shabbat is the holiest of spaces, or time. In this portion we not only see what a physical space should look like according to Jewish law but more importantly we are reminded of the covenant between G-d and the Jews to keep the Sabbath holy. Our time is precious and even if only for one day a week it should reflect our spiritual values so that we can feel fully present and whole. Think of how much more we could accomplish all week if we take the time to feel spiritually nourished!

Join me in The Challenge:

A great book about Shabbat in today's technological challenges: The Sabbath World by: Judith Shulevitz



יִתְרוֹ Exodus (18:1-20:23) -- Yitro- Commanded to rest

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:

Or our relationships:

Could we be sacrificing our lives when we drive while distracted?

Or causing serious mental health issues by spending excessive time on the web:,8599,2008234,00.html

Some reading/ resources on Shabbat…

Books about Shabbat:

Lecture at JTS Thursday February 17th.

What to do about reading an e-book on Shabbat:

Sabbath Manifesto, keeping Shabbat made easy...