Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons
פרשת ויקהל-פקודי, תש״פ
Parshat Vayak'heil-P'kudei, 5780
by Rabbi Sydni
Saturday, March 21st, 2020
A Time for Keeping Shabbat
A midrash teaches that each day of the week was created with a partner. Sunday had Monday, Tuesday had Wednesday, and Thursday had Friday, but then, Shabbat was all alone. As Shabbat was crying in her loneliness, God said, don’t worry, you have the best partner of all. Your partner is the people Israel.
When we sing L’kha Dodi on Friday night, we welcome in the Shabbat bride - our bride - with a glorious love song. For thousands of years, the Jewish people have shown their love for their partner by practicing both positive and negative mitzvot, by leaning towards and abstaining from particular actions from Friday at sunset through Saturday when three stars come out. On thisparticular week, during thisparticular time, we have more of an opportunity than ever to return to traditional ways of showing our love for Shabbat. In our current life of quarantine, social distancing, safer at home, or whatever you call this chaos, now is the time to try out being shomer Shabbat, observing the commandments of our Sabbath.
As Rebecca reminded us in her comments, our double Torah portion this week has to do mostly with designing and constructing the Tabernacle. However, the very first section of our parashah is dedicated to commanding us not to work for one day a week. Even when engaged in the holy work of building a home for God, the people Israel are told to rest from their building and engage in the holier practice of Shabbat. Even when God creates the world, God takes a break from Creation to engage in that holier practice of resting on the seventh day. Unless your work is dedicated to directly saving lives right now, I would guess that you can step back from your computer for one twenty-five hour period of time. The world will keep turning, even if you turn off your television, even if you leave Netflix alone, even if you buy nothing for a full day. Shabbat is known as Shabbat kodesh; kodesh does not just mean holy, but more importantly, separate. Our rest from work on this day does not just mean that we sit back and twiddle our thumbs, but rather, that we refrain from and lean into in order to make this day distinct from the rest of our week. During a week in which we are already spending more time than usual at home, in which we are already engaging what we might call rest, or perhaps even boredom, it is more important than ever to make sure this day of Shabbat is different than any other day of the week.
The Mishnah teaches thirty-nine creative actions from which we are supposed to refrain on Shabbat. These actions represent ways to change our environment, to maintain our control of the world we live in. While these actions are important throughout the rest of the week, refraining from these actions on Shabbat represents a gratitude for our current state of being. For your enjoyment, I will try to say all of these forbidden actions in one breath:
Sowing, plowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing, bleaching, combing, dyeing, spinning, setting up a loom, preparing to weave, weaving, unweaving, tying a knot, untying a knot, sewing, tearing, trapping, killing, skinning, tanning, tracing, scraping, cutting, writing, erasing, building, demolishing, kindling a fire, extinguishing a fire, finishing, and carrying.
Some of these things are actions that you most likely would not do tomorrow anyway unless you are a farmer, shepherd, or weaver. However, some are things you might regularly do. You might write or erase, whether with pen and paper, on your computer, or on your phone. You might kindle a fire when starting your car. You might cook, garden, engage in a woodworking project, or go hunting or fishing. Tonight and tomorrow, I challenge you to stop creating. I challenge you to accept the world you live in without altering it in any way. Step away from your technology and your human creative power for just one day and enjoy the company of your loved ones. Enjoy the company of that book that has sat on the shelf for ten years, calling your name, and take out that board game that has sat in the closet since your kids left for college. Walk or run outside. Engage in the positive mitzvot of Shabbat - lighting candles, enjoying wine with your dinner, and even giving personal prayer a try. The Rabbis of the Talmud even specifically encourage romantic relations on this day as a pinnacle of oneg Shabbat - literally, Shabbat delight.
Precisely because you are sitting in the exact same place today as you were yesterday and will be tomorrow, today MUST be different. Make the next twenty-five hours Shabbat kodesh, a time to remember that even in times of chaos, you have the freedom to carve out twenty-five hours of distinction, of holiness.
If I were teaching or speaking before a normal Shabbat, I would ask you to pick one positive mitzvah to commit to doing and one negative mitzvah to commit to refraining from, but this is not a normal Shabbat. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I would bet that you need a rest from the way you have been resting for the past week. Right now, you need an intentional return to delight.
When the bride walks in at a wedding, you do not pay attention to anyone other than her. This Shabbat, please greet the bride just the same as you would greet any other bride - Shabbat is who and what you are dedicated to for the next twenty-five hours. Observe Shabbat fully, and see how wonderful it is to fall deeply in love with her, deeply in love with the world as it is right now. Shabbat Shalom.