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Yitro 5782 - Shabbat Rest: A Sacred Inconvenience

January 22, 2022 - 20 Sh'vat, 5782

What would happen if right now, we committed to not checking email or social media, to not typing or writing until nightfall? What would happen if we committed to not spending money, to not cooking or baking until three stars appear in the sky tonight? I am almost positive that the world, even your world would not come crashing down. Sure, there would be inconveniences, and sure, it would be a lot easier if you had prepared yesterday, but ultimately, you and your loved ones would probably turn out okay by the end of the day. Even if you don’t have anything in the fridge at home, we’ll have enough food at lunch today to get you through until 6:15.

Today, we are reading the big ten, the Ten Commandments, and number four is all about Shabbat! If you’d like to follow along, it starts in Etz Hayim (the big red book) on page 445. 

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbat of Adonai 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 God rested on the seventh day; therefore Adonai blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11). 

We rest from work on Shabbat to remind ourselves that God has already created the world; while our work during the week may have great impact, we still must remind ourselves that we are working with that which was already created. As medieval commentator Hizkuni writes, What will we really add? - look, we have everything. Resting from work is an act of both humility and gratitude, a recognition that while our world may not be perfect, it is marvelous, and it can be enough for now.

In the Mishnah, our Rabbis give us a solid framework for what it means to rest from creative work on Shabbat. According to the Rabbis, we rest from 39 actions, along with actions related to them. We rest from…

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 a project, and carrying.

Halakhically, resting from work on Shabbat does not just entail going through the day with a relaxed attitude and perhaps attending synagogue, but rather, it entails actively refraining from specific acts of creation for twenty-five hours. Of course, Shabbat observance also does include positive mitzvot, like lighting Shabbat candles, enjoying good food, and reciting blessings. Shabbat observance also mandates that we prioritize saving a life over the intricacies of halakhic practice.

While all of that may be well and good in theory, keeping Shabbat can be much harder in practice. Friday night and daytime on Saturday are often some of the only times we have during the week to go to a restaurant or go shopping with friends and family. Shabbat may seem like a great time to finish some construction around the house or to garden. However, with a bit of forethought and creativity, we can orient our week around Shabbat in a way that makes that day without work even more sacred. We can cook or order food from a favorite restaurant to share with friends and family at our home or theirs on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon. Instead of going to the movie theater or the mall, we can enjoy an afternoon of board games, walking the dog, and reading that book that has been sitting on the shelf for years. As I believe that electricity is permissible on Shabbat, Shabbat can be a great time for TV or a movie, if everything is set up beforehand.

Yes, observing Shabbat consistently can take a lot of planning, and yet, there are shortcuts. Every time we go shopping, we can make sure that we have something to eat (either heated in the microwave or eaten cold) on Shabbat, just in case we run out of time to prepare a full meal beforehand. We can set our phones to Do Not Disturb from Friday night through Saturday night, with calls permitted from our loved ones in case of emergency. I even have a phone message that reminds people that I do not use my phone Friday night through Saturday night because of Shabbat. For those who tend to respond to a lot of emails on Shabbat, you can set an out-of-office reply. And of course, in order to observe Shabbat, we need to let the people in our lives know what to expect and invite them into the positive practices and activities of the day. Even with all of these shortcuts, we still need to rearrange our schedules - our appointments, our projects, and our dates - to make Shabbat our day not just of rest for, but of rest from. With our Shabbat observance, we not only honor the time we need to rest and reset, but also, the time we need to focus on God, family, and this gorgeous world within which we exist.

Hizkuni, again, puts it beautifully - זכור את יום השבת - remembering the Sabbath day must mean letting Shabbat dominate our thoughts throughout the week. In essence, our whole week should be scheduled to prepare and make room for the day that we marvel at God’s creation of a world that will still turn, even if we don’t post on Instagram for one whole day! Just as we honor our parents, don’t steal, and don’t bear false witness every single day, we remember Shabbat on Monday and Tuesday just as much as we remember it on Friday and Saturday. Shabbat Shalom. 

Sun, October 2 2022 7 Tishrei 5783