I love the Shabbat experience (especially the candle lighting and the kiddush), but why so many restrictions? No driving, no shopping, no playing music, no chatting on the phone — you're not even allowed to check your e-mail! Sounds more like a prison than a day of rest. Why not just focus on the beautiful rituals and the restful atmosphere? I'd love to start keeping Shabbat, but all that "don't do this" and "don't do that" is a real turn-off...


I'm reminded of a conversation I overheard the other day before at my child's swimming class.

The instructor had just concluded his ten-minute introductory lecture on the joys and perils of swimming. "Any questions?" he asked.

Ten-year-old Bobby raised his hand. "Can I play with my Gameboy while we're swimming?"

"No, Bobby," replied the instructor. "We shouldn't have any electronic devices with us in the water..."

"How about Scrabble then? Can I play Scrabble while I'm swimming — that's not electronic."

"No, Bobby, I don't think that would be possible."

"Can I wear my new cowboy boots?"

"I really wouldn't recommend wearing cowboy boots while swimming, Bobby."

And so it went. Bobby was disappointed to learn that he couldn't ride his bicycle, play the piano, paint the garage or eat a grilled cheese sandwich while swimming. He finally left in disgust — who needs swimming anyway, if all it is a bunch of you're-not-alloweds!

Bobby, of course, was being ridiculous. Swimming is not a bunch of don'ts. Swimming is a positive activity. Obviously, if you're going to be swimming, you're going to stop doing all the things that interfere with that activity.

"Rest" sounds easy. It isn't. It's the most unnatural activity in the universe On Shabbat we enter into a state of rest. "Rest" sounds easy. It isn't. It is the most unnatural activity in the universe. The universe — existence itself — is a giant perpetual motion machine. Everything in it, from galaxies to atoms, is constantly spinning, vibrating, dividing and multiplying, deconstructing and rebuilding, driving and striving. Not for a single moment does our heart stop pumping, our brain churning, our soul yearning. Earning a living is work, running a home is work, vacationing is work. Rest? The very fact that we can even articulate the idea of "rest" to ourselves is a miracle!

Indeed, our sages tell us that at the end of the six days of creation the world was complete. It had everything — except for one element. "What was the world missing? Rest. With the coming of Shabbat came rest." Rest is a creation — if G‑d had not created the seventh day, there would be no such thing as "rest." Even now, true rest is an elusive commodity, obtainable only via the active experience of Shabbat.

And to experience Shabbat rest, we need to cease work — that is, cease all creative involvement with our world. Plowing a field, for example, constitutes creative involvement with the world. Converting matter into energy (which is what we do every time we press down on the gas pedal or turn on an electrical appliance) constitutes creative involvement with the world. If you're creatively involving, you're not resting.

Swimming can be a very restricting state — if you forget about what it is you're doing and just think about all the things you're not doing because you're doing what you're doing. Shabbat, too, may feel restrictive at first. But once you shrug off those cowboy boots and chuck all thoughts of the piano playing out of your mind, the rest kicks in.