Sabbath

I was prepared for how this journey would change the way I saw the Los Angeles I knew from my old mental map. To experience the Venice Beach boardwalk from inside an Orthodox synagogue that sits at the end of a long line of shops hawking pizza slices, t-shirts, and “medical” marijuana is to never see the boardwalk in quite the same way again.

What I did not expect was how it would change my perception of time. Not the epic generational time of the Torah, but regular, everyday time: the ordinary hours and days that make up our weeks, months, and years. The most obvious difference is the start of the new day at sunset instead of the usual sunrise. It cuts in half what I previously perceived as a single block of time, a small shift with surprising consequences. Suddenly, I have twice the opportunity to acknowledge a new day, two access points where before there was only one. It’s the difference between a watermelon whole and a watermelon sliced open.

But the more meaningful difference is how every week builds toward the Sabbath. I had not realized the significance of the Sabbath, how it beats at the heart of Judaism. I had thought it was equivalent to the Christian Sunday, the one day out of the week when worship services are held at synagogues. Then, I saw it only as a list of things you aren’t supposed to do from sundown on Friday to after sundown on Saturday. Observant Jews can’t drive, turn on or off a computer or television or light, write with pen or pencil, buy anything, do laundry, cook, clean, garden, lift or move objects—nothing that is “work.” It seemed like a collection of rules so extensive and complicated that it would be more effort adhering to them than whatever toil from which they were trying to save you.

But it wasn’t until I met Barbara—mother of four and a lifetime Orthodox Jew (not counting her brief mid-20s Buddhist phase)—that I began to get it. We were talking about how she and her family prepare for the Sabbath; she was explaining the chores and errands that must be completed to ensure this chunk of time can be free from these responsibilities. Her family members have the normal weekday obligations—jobs and school—but in addition, Monday through Thursday is also the time when they grocery shop and clean the house and make food to serve through Saturday night. Friday before sundown, the finishing touches are addressed: the slow cooker is filled with whatever she might want to serve warm, the lights she wants left on are turned on, and the table is set for the primary meal her family will share on Saturday afternoon when they return from the synagogue.

As Barbara was explaining her Sabbath-prep techniques to me, I began to see that for her getting ready for the sun to set on Friday evening was like arranging to stay at a remote cabin in the woods. Everything you need must be purchased and organized in advance because once you arrive there will be no electricity, no cell phone reception, and no leaving to purchase something you forgot.

Only here the idea is to create the retreat right where you are.

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17 thoughts on “Sabbath

    • Hi Frank,
      Corinna set the stage well. Getting for the Sabbath makes the Sabbath. The more you prepare the more you enjoy. In a manner of speaking, all of the rules allow us to disengage from the din of our daily drudgery. No phones, no email, no TV, no radio, no banking, no driving. It’s not restrictive, it’s liberating. It’s a time to recharge the batteries, hear our inner voices and have meaningful time with friends and families. It is a line in the sand that keeps life’s routines from running over us.

      We do have electricity, we just don’t operate it. If you want the lights on in the dining room for Sabbath night you turn them on beforehand and you don’t turn them off until Saturday night. You can preset a timer also to do the same. (You could do the same with a TV, but we don’t as it undermines the atmosphere and purpose of the Sabbath)

      The rules of disengagement are the embodiment of Gd efforts to create the world. The world was finished after the sixth day and it rested on the seventh. The rules are extensions of creative forces and we “rest” from them on the Sabbath and enjoy them.

      Sometimes, I wish I could pop an extra Sabbath on Monday mornings!

  1. How lovely. I don’t know if it’s because of what they do or your beautiful writing of it, which seems to capture its intended spirit. It brought to mind a catechism question, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer – To glorify God and enjoy him forever.

  2. With some of the laws (in all faiths, not just the Jewish) it’s hard to understand how God came up with them. They seem so arbitrary or disconnected from usefulness or something. But with “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” it’s easy to see God taking care of his people. We NEED a Sabbath, we’re built that way, not only because we need the rest, but because we need a space every seven days to contemplate things that really matter. Taking time and care to prepare ahead for that day honors God, honors the higher and deeper places in ourselves. We need to set ourselves apart, I think.

  3. We were in Israel for a couple sabbaths….what a marvelous and highly interesting experience. Corinna, have you come across the sabbath elevators? They automatically stop at each floor so that you don’t have to push the button. This seems to crazy to us, but it was a great reminder to me to think about the purpose of the Sabbath. Yes, Shelley, we should let ourselves be reminded that God is providing a rest for his people…
    Not everyone takes advantage of that….some Christians–who seem to view Sunday as their “Sabbath”–go to as many as three different church services….pretty much exhaust themselves resting, I suppose…:(

    • Hi Walt,
      I remember the first time I saw the “Push Button Free Sabbath Elevators” …I thought it was pretty interesting. They have in Israel an institute dedicated to using science to help with fulfilling the sanctity of the Sabbath. For hospital patients, who must stay on Sabbath and do not have a life threatening illness they created an air driven call button for the nurses. No electric circuit. Some really clever people there.

      So far, I have not been able to figure out how I can operate without getting my buttons pushed!

      • Hi Rabbi Aaron, I know many people say they want to disengage from the hustle and bustle and rest, but I think the idea of it is much easier than the reality. To rest in the place of quiet and stillness can be so scary: no distractions from getting to know yourself! Yet, what other way is there to get to know ourselves truly?

        • HI Corinna,

          Your question deserves a proper response. There is an expression from the tractate “Sayings of our Fathers”, and the answer is addressed by this statement, ” Make for yourself a mentor, acquire a friend…” Due to the current pressures of time, I will be traveling to Asia next week, I will give you a brief understand as it really deserves a richer explanation, Since the nature all mankind is that self opinion and truthful personal insights carry a bias one can hardly evaluate themselves without the guide of a seasoned and honest mentor. The role of a mentor, who has also a quality of a friend, is like that of a tuning fork to a musical instrument. To really be in “key” an instrument needs an independent tone to calibrate itself.

          So it goes with our own behaviors which are fundamentally biased we need help to learn how to be in tune, with Gd, with our fellow man and all of creation. The “mentor–friend” dynamic is a aide for us to consider who can properly act as our tuning fork!

          Introspective reflection that leads to character development requires courage, as everybody thinks the worlds problems lie in someone else. To look inside and find one’s true self is difficult without wise counsel with a dose of friendly support. The ultimate humility is to be intellectually honest about our weaknesses and our strengths, and that journey needs a guide. Over two thousand years ago, our Rabbis aptly described this tour guide as “Make for yourself a mentor…..”

          I will be out of the loop next week and I wish all a wonderful week!

          • I like this, “Make for yourself a mentor….” Sometimes we are simply blocked by our subconscious mind of seeing the thing or things that keep us from growing to a more fulfilling life. The mentor helps us to work through or transcend the delusion into the courage of living a more transparent and authentic life. The mentor doesn’t always have to be a professional although it could be, but a friend who knows how to listen without judgment helping us to slide through our emotional knots with ease and grace.

            • Hi Frank…thanks for your addition…it is exactly in sync with the philosophy. It takes an outsider to reveal the insider! Have a great weekend

            • This morning I’m asking myself why it is that Rabbi Aaron’s responses seem so fluid, pleasant and scholarly and at the same time as if a caring protector is walking with me while I find the Christian ministers as in “razzle-dazzle”, or whatever it was, seem so unappealing. I’m not talking about Tim and Walt and certainly Ginger has a way of presenting it that is usually warm and nonjudgmental and I think of her as scholarly in her faith as well but I can’t help but make the comparison that lodges in my heart and mind. I feel no “push” to Moses, the Torah or other sacred Jewish writings but I sure do feel the “push” to accept Jesus as if the person speaking already knows that I don’t and that somehow I must and follows it with whatever ploy of guilt and judgment they can muster. What’s the old saying: “You can catch a lot more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” But then, yes, I get a little vinagery myself sometimes. My “mentor” tells me this.

    • Hi Walt, I had never heard of those elevators. I saw a documentary once that included a scene where some engineers were working on inventions that would allow people to avoid electricity on Sabbath. One was some sort of non-electric wheelchair that was somehow self-propelled.

  4. Aaron said:
    “Sometimes, I wish I could pop an extra Sabbath on Monday mornings!”

    Aaron, I think you finally found the one philosophical maxim people all over the world can share!

    Its ironic in this age of constant connectivity that we have instant access to the book that tells us we need to disconnect at least once a week. Many times, when I m writing on this blog, I want to be sure I quote Scripture correctly, so I’ll search for the phrase I want to cite. There’s one site with at least two dozen English versions of the Bible. They all say the same thing–we are to rest on the Sabbath. But how many of us do, whether its Friday/Saturday or Sunday. So many people complain they have no time to rest and center themselves, yet the perfect recipe is as close as the nearest Bible!

    • Tim:
      Well said. Most of us don’t think about the fact that God put the Sabbath alongside the other 9 commandments….He must have figured it rather important….which is a total understatement, of course.

    • Hi Tim,
      Nice commentary. The Sabbath can be a frightening prospect for a person who never really got to know themselves. (Not relevant for anyone who is self absorbed, as they would not know anyone other than themselves.) The Sabbath allows us to shutter the clutter and to reflect about durable values. Good things flow from simple truths: self-respect, respect for others, humility, gratitude and accountability to the Creat-r, who gave each of us our lives and the power to use our human resources for goodness. The Sabbath bliss is the mystical revelation of the six days of prior work, and a foundation that elevates the next six days to come.

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