Thursday, January 16, 2020

Call the Sabbath a Delight

This is another in the ongoing series this year related to A. J. Heschel's book, The Sabbath, which we are studying at minchah service at NSJC:  

"Call the Sabbath a delight:  a delight to the soul and a delight to the body.  Since there are so many acts which one must abstain from doing on the seventh day, 'you might think I have given you the Sabbath for your displeasure; I have surely given you the Sabbath for your pleasure.'  To sanctify the seventh day does not mean:  Thou shalt mortify thyself, but, on the contrary;  Thou shalt sanctify it with all they heart, with all they soul, and with all thy senses.  'Sanctify the Sabbat by choice meals, by beautiful garments; delight your soul with pleasure and I will reward you for this very pleasure.'"

Here, incorporating passages found in Isaiah, Kabbalah and Midrash, Heschel, with the remarkable prose for which he is noted, describes one of the commonly misunderstood ideas about keeping the Sabbath, namely, that it is hard to do because there are lots of rules about things you can't do.

From my own experience, I understand how one can think this.  In managing a household of boys accustomed to entertainment, socializing, and even occasionally education, coming to them by way of electronic devices, getting them to stick to our family practice of not using such things is still regularly a challenge.  Yet once we do finally sit down to eat favorite foods, play a board game together, or other such family activities, while they might still tell you they'd prefer to be online, I think they would also agree that this break in their routine to be together is valuable and enjoyable to them, too.

And it is focusing on the positive aspects of Shabbat, which are equally part of its observance alongside those things from which we refrain, that I always encourage "new practitioners"to start with.  Getting great meals ready to go, putting out favorite table linens, wearing something special,  reading a good book, going to services, enjoying family time, or just taking an afternoon nap, not only are these truly things we don't give enough time to during the week and that we need in life, but if you were to engage in such activities, you'd probably be avoiding many of the things we don't do anyway - an added bonus.  

While neither Heschel nor I are saying don't take all of Shabbat seriously, as there can be great beauty and holiness in refraining and abstaining, to approach Shabbat with those things in mind first is a disservice to one of the great concepts, one of the great gifts Judaism brings to the world - that of having a day not of doing and acquiring, but of resting, reflecting and thanking.  

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benson

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