Religion & Beliefs

Shabbat… why bother?

Of all the Jewish rituals and traditions I neglect, Shabbat is the one I feel saddest about neglecting. Year after year I promise myself that I'll "get around to" observing the Sabbath, and somehow, I never make time. I know … Read More

By / November 17, 2006
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Of all the Jewish rituals and traditions I neglect, Shabbat is the one I feel saddest about neglecting. Year after year I promise myself that I'll "get around to" observing the Sabbath, and somehow, I never make time. I know this is my own fucking fault, and that there's nothing standing in my way, but…

Hey, I'm just being honest!

Today I thought (since Shabbat begins this evening, as it does every Friday night) I'd talk a little about why I think Shabbat is so incredible. Why so many other cultures have taken this idea from us (okay, so maybe we weren't the first), when they've abandoned the rest of the laws…

First of all, there's the simple idea of rest. A few years ago, my father started turning off his phone on Friday nights, and leaving it off until sundown on Saturday. I found this irritating and difficult, and weird since he wasn't always at synagogue or anything… but my dad kept at it.

Finally I realized, it wasn't about me. And it wasn't about synagogue either. Whether or not he chose to pray, my dad was carving out a day when he could clear his head… when he could keep the world from intruding on his peace of mind. He used this day for a lot of things, but it was always (when he could swing it) a quiet day of thought and rest. A day that made the rest of the week better.

Until that time, I'd never really thought about rest before, about how the idea of rest is different then it was back when we were building pyramids and stuff. We may not be working at physical labor anymore, amnd so we may not need to relax our sore muscles, but we are absolutely running ourselves ragged. There are so few islands of calm in today's world… and my dad had decided to make one. Technology free, time to walk the dog, read a book, eat a meal in quiet.

So that's something to think about… Shabbat is not about God or prayer, anymore than the other days of the week really (which is to say that it's about prayer and God howevermuch wednesday is about those things for you). It's about rest:even according to the people who do go to synagogue:

Shabbat is not specifically a day of prayer. Although we do pray on Shabbat, and spend a substantial amount of time in synagogue praying, prayer is not what distinguishes Shabbat from the rest of the week. Observant Jews pray every day, three times a day. See Jewish Liturgy. To say that Shabbat is a day of prayer is no more accurate than to say that Shabbat is a day of feasting: we eat every day, but on Shabbat, we eat more elaborately and in a more leisurely fashion. The same can be said of prayer on Shabbat.

Which means, I think, that you need to figure out how best to celebrate and rest in your own home (or out of your home if you prefer).

Shabbat is when you should do things better than you do the rest of the week. Better— not in the sense of excelling at them (you do NOT need to cook a fancy meal like your Grandma might) but in the sense of more pleasurable and restful for you.

I've been thinking that Friday night may become "pizza and movie night" here at my place… because since having the baby, we don't eat out, and pizza has become a treat. And though we're broke enough that a nice meal out would be stressful financially (not to mention, baby-messy-all-over-linen-tables), and there's NO WAY I'm cooking a nice dinner on a weekly basis, or putting on nice clothes… pizza we can swing.

And since hubby and I never get time to sit on the couch together, maybe Friday night can become the night that we do. No band practice, no paper-grading, no him-checking-his-email-while-I-watch awful-tv… Just pizza and paper plates (no mess) and a good movie under the blanket on the couch. Followed by a Saturday of… oh, I don't know… just spending time all together, with the baby in a stroller, running little errands (which might sound like work, but feels like luxury around here lately– the luxury of doing things as a group, instead of "spelling each other with the baby").

Which would not have been my idea of the ideal Shabbat 2 years ago, when I might have said a big pot-luck with friends and a lot of wine… followed by a day of recovery… or five years ago, when I might have said sushi-and-sake followed by a night of live music… and a day of recovery.

But hey, everyone's different, and I'm a lot of people all in one.

What about you?