Time for some R and R

One of my favorite quotes about Shabbat is Ahad Ha’am’s: “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” I love the idea that not only is keeping Shabbat an important feature of Jewish observance, but that there is a practical positive impact of this observance on maintaining Jewish culture and identity. This week in Ki Tisa, we read a few verses about observing Shabbat that codify its central importance for the Children of Israel, and we get a few hints about why the sanctification of time is at least as important as the sanctification of space.

(14) You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. (15) Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. (16) The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: (17) it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.

(יד) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת כִּ֛י קֹ֥דֶשׁ הִ֖וא לָכֶ֑ם מְחַֽלְלֶ֙יהָ֙ מ֣וֹת יוּמָ֔ת כִּ֗י כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה בָהּ֙ מְלָאכָ֔ה וְנִכְרְתָ֛ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִ֖וא מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמֶּֽיהָ׃ (טו) שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ יֵעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֧ת שַׁבָּת֛וֹן קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַיהוָ֑ה כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֧ה מְלָאכָ֛ה בְּי֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת׃ (טז) וְשָׁמְר֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֑ת לַעֲשׂ֧וֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֛ת לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם׃ (יז) בֵּינִ֗י וּבֵין֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם כִּי־שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ׃ (ס)

Exodus 31:14-17

Anyone who works in a school knows the importance of rituals. Their regularity and predictability are particularly important for children, though also many adults rely on such features for security and comfort. In our classrooms, we begin each day with a morning mifgash (meeting) as directed by Responsive Classroom. This ritual offers the class community the opportunity to check in, acknowledge one another, and sets a positive tone for the day of learning and discovery. Not unlike the standing meetings that occur in many offices, being able to count on regular face time enables members of the community to relax and begin their days with order and direction.

Shabbat plays a similar role in the Jewish week. It offers a calm moment to sit and breathe with family and community, and it includes features that address every level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: shelter, sustenance, relationships & connection, and prayer. Ahad Ha’am recognized the deep health such a regular practice offers individuals and communities — the opportunity to re-affirm all the communal and familial commitments that inevitably begin to slip away during the triage of weekly business.

One of my own favorite moments growing up was when my parents would bless my sister and I before we sat down to eat on Friday night. I could count on that moment coming each week, no matter how busy or distracted my parents might have become, during which I could feel their complete attention and love directed at me.

There are many ways Shabbat can be observed today, and as a pluralistic community we honor a wide variety of practices and traditions. What we can all agree on, however, is the central nature of setting aside some time on a weekly basis to fulfill this obligation. Interestingly, the word Shabbat derives from a Hebrew root meaning “rest,” and the verses above indicate the origin of the day connecting us to the day on which G-d rested after six days of creating. They go on to say that G-d rested and VaYiNaFaSh. This word is translated as “was refreshed or restored.” The root (N.F.SH.) means soul or spirit. It is unclear what this really means, but it certainly isn’t a nap. G-d’s own divine spirit rested and became revitalized on this holy seventh day, and that is something we can each aspire to during our own observance of Shabbat.

This week, ask your children what makes their souls happy and refreshed, and share your own answers with them.

Shabbat Shalom,