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Kedoshim 5782 - How I Spend a Shabbat Afternoon

Saturday, May 7, 2022 - Iyar 6, 5782

As the sun begins to set later and later, the amount of time we have between our morning Shabbat service and Havdalah lengthens. Tonight, Havdalah time is 8:40. For those of us who actively keep Shabbat, that means we don’t spend money, cook, bake, sew, knit, write, draw, build, garden, or a whole lot more until after many kids in this congregation are already asleep. Alas, no Dvorak’s New World with the Shreveport Symphony later tonight! For many of us, the question arises - what in the world do I do on a late spring or summer Shabbat afternoon, when there is so much I can’t do.

In case you thought God had given us enough instructions about Shabbat with our Ten Commandments and multiple reminders throughout Exodus and early Leviticus, God is at it again with Parashat Kedoshim! …V’et Shabtotai tishmoru, ani Adonai Eloheikhem - and you shall keep my Sabbaths, I am Adonai your God (19:3). Et Shabtotai tishmoru u-mikdashi tira-u, ani Adonai - You shall keep my Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, I am Adonai (19:30). The dominant observance language here is tishmoru, seen elsewhere as shamor - keep, or guard. Traditionally, this command to keep or guard refers to all of the creative practices we don’t do on Shabbat. On a late Saturday afternoon, that list of don’t-do’s can seem particularly long.

Even so, Saturday afternoon is one of my favorite times of the week, and I would love to share with you some of the ways I celebrate a day off from creative work. First, of course, is this service and the lunch and learning that come afterwards. While I know I need some personal time by 2:30 or 3, I appreciate that a few community members feel comfortable staying outside and chatting for a while after learning each week. 

On Shabbat afternoon, time is irrelevant. As we spend the day admiring the creative work that God and that we have done throughout the week, today, we have nowhere to be, and hopefully, nothing we really need to create after we leave here. As I’ve said before, the world will keep turning even without our active creativity for 25 hours a week.

After walking home, Rabbi Feivel and I will take the dogs on a long, leisurely walk, if weather permits. For those who run or ride a bike, this could be a great time to get out some of that extra energy. If weather doesn’t permit, I may practice yoga or stretch for a bit, something anyone can take that time at home to do. Once the dog walk is over, I’m ready for one of my classic Shabbat naps. If you’re anything like me, you don’t get enough sleep during the week; this afternoon time becomes a precious opportunity to catch up on that rest we’ve missed and needed. I take real pride in my ability to curl up with the dogs for two or three hours each Saturday afternoon. Even if I can’t sleep, I have that luxury of being able to stare into space, with nothing scheduled and no consequences.

Even for those who aren’t champion nappers, both introverts and extroverts have a whole lot of options for the hours in between synagogue and Havdalah. For the introverts among us, we can dig into those extra books we have on our shelves that we’ve ignored for years. We can dedicate the afternoon to even more Jewish study and practice - taking our time to daven minhah and being particularly attentive to the blessings before and after we eat. Traditionally, we study either Pirkei Avot or a particular set of Psalms on Shabbat afternoon. I have even known women who spend Shabbat afternoon chanting through the entire book of Psalms as a meditative practice. Each of us has an aspect of Judaism about which we yearn to learn more, and each of us has those resources and that time at our fingertips. 

For one more introverted activity on Shabbat afternoon, I often spend the early evening practicing piano, using this particular time to practice what brings me joy and comfort to play. If I ever become frustrated, I set that particular piece or exercise aside for another day of practice; Shabbat is not the time for tzuris. While I know that many of us in this congregation play musical instruments, not all of us accept the permission to play those instruments on Shabbat, as we may be tempted to fix them if they break, violating a Shabbat prohibition. However, I believe that we are each wise enough to use our discretion when playing for the sake of rest and delight on Shabbat.

For the extroverts among us and for those who live with others who might need to be entertained, Shabbat afternoon can be a wonderful time to play board or card games. Although we don’t write on Shabbat, any necessary scorekeeping can be done with scraps of paper and the pages of a thick book. It’s also a wonderful time to invite friends or neighbors to visit, especially those who may not otherwise experience Shabbat. While we don’t cook or bake on Shabbat, we can heat food prepared or bought before Shabbat, and we can even prepare cold foods like salads, chips and dip, or ice cream and toppings. Whether or not people are coming over, Rabbi Feivel and I always make sure we have something in the house to nosh, in case we don’t make enough food on Friday night.

Throughout the rest of the week, we have places to go, people to see, and tasks to do, all hopefully for the benefit of our families and communities. Just one day a week, we have an opportunity to reflect on all that we have accomplished the past six days and reset our energy for the next six days to come. While theoretically, the concept of Shabbat may sound lovely, in actuality, those hours of unscheduled, unprogrammed, unproductive time can seem terrifying or even unrealistic. And yet, if we change our mindsets from all of the things we can’t do for twenty-five hours to all of the things we finally have a chance to do, guilt-free, we can come closer to embracing the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat, of delighting in a day that is perfect just as it is. Even taking the step of adopting one Shabbat-friendly practice each Saturday afternoon, like reading a book or playing a game with family, can have its effect, especially for those who are modeling for younger family members the importance of joy, self-care, and Jewish identity. The Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Shabbat, Rabbi Yohanan, son of Rabbi Yosi teaches, “regarding anyone who delights in Shabbat, God gives him a boundless portion” (118a). When we use Shabbat afternoon, especially during the summer, as an expansive opportunity to embrace what gives us real delight, we open ourselves to endless possibilities. We may even find that this one day taken away from creative work may be more productive, more inspiring, and more rejuvenating than any other day of any other week. Shabbat Shalom.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784