New friends are puzzled, even dismayed, when they hear about the way I
observe the Shabbat. They are surprised to learn that I do not write, flip an
electric switch, use the telephone, cook or engage in a host of assorted
everyday activities for twenty five hours each week, starting Friday night at
sunset until Saturday at nightfall.
After that brief pocket of time, I am back on track, rushing along on that same
fast-paced corporate treadmill. No one who sees me in the throes of my hectic
life would ever believe I take such a prolonged hiatus, and on such a regular
No one who sees me in the throes of my hectic
life would ever believe I take such a prolonged hiatus, and on such a regular basis
basis. "How can you afford to do that?" they ask. When they hear that my
observance also precludes shopping, theater-going and a wide gamut of
recreational activities, they'll raise an eyebrow and say, "Why would you
want to do that?"
This reaction is not at all surprising. It comes from the natural assumption
that to cease our everyday pursuits is not only difficult, but impossible. Think
of the advertisements with the harried climber perched precariously on the
mountaintop, logging in on a laptop to check for e-mail; or the sunbather on a
remote island clinching a last-minute deal even as she professes to be on
"You shall work during the six days and do all your tasks. But Saturday is the
Shabbat to G-d your Lord. Do not do anything that constitutes work." (Exodus
Everyone seems to take this fourth of the Ten Commandments quite seriously. The
part about working for six days, that is. But, of course, the whole commandment
is relevant: Shabbat is rendered meaningful by the work days and the work days
are elevated by Shabbat.
The Kabbalah teaches that G-d spent six days creating a stage on which we are all
the actors. He did this by contracting His energy and pulling back, thus
creating an "empty place," an arena we call "the world." G-d remains
hidden to allow us our freedom and the ability to choose. He's hoping we will
choose Tikkun Olam, perfecting the world. He's hoping we will validate His
plan by spending six days each week elevating this world, unmasking the G-dliness
inherent in all matter and unleashing the Divine spark of energy that gives life
to all things.
Shabbat is a potent reminder that takes
us back to the beginning. It is a reunion with our inner selves
As we become submerged in our work, however, it becomes a struggle to remain
above it. In the endless conflict between earth and spirit, sheer weight often
wins out. It is easy to forget our source, our reason for being, our point of
departure for this journey we call life. Shabbat is a potent reminder that takes
us back to the beginning. It is a reunion with our inner selves; a return to the
primal oneness our souls enjoyed with G-d before being sent to our present
existence. It is a return to the perfection that existed after the six days of
creation, before sin.
That I don't cook, shop, or fax on Shabbat is a statement as much as it is a
way of life. On Shabbat I will desist from harnessing this world's energies
and forces. I will suspend my efforts to master and transform. In mirroring G-d's
original pattern -- ceasing after six days of invention and innovation -- I will
lift the veil and come face to face with my self and my G-d.
So think again, this time about the advertisements for glamorous vacation
options to exotic, sun-drenched islands, and their promise of escape from the
everyday din and commotion. Not only are you hundreds or thousands of miles from
home, but the plug is pulled on the phone, fax and e-mail. What a relief! And
that's what I experience each week when on Friday, just as the sun is about to
set, I disconnect myself from my everyday summonses. I light the Shabbat candles
and something changes as I clear my mind and take a deep breath, knowing I am in
a place where I could never have arrived on my own.