Why Shabbat Is the Opposite of Busy, and Five Ways to Get in on It

Profile 2What does Shabbat mean to us? Why do we need this day of rest? Carly L. Goldberg in her essay touched these important questions. „Busy“: It’s a word that rolls off my tongue with such ease that it scares me. Being busy – overscheduled and overcommitted while deeply resenting this state of being – takes a great toll on my physical, psychological, and spiritual wellness. And I’m not alone. Busy has become emblematic of success in our 21st-century society – and yet, more than ever, people are exhausted, burned out, and desperately seeking refuge from their everyday existence.

The truth is, being busy is often self-imposed and motivated by the need to boost our self-esteem and sense of self-worth in our everyday lives. Whether we are conscious of our busyness or not, the desire to escape the feeling of being overwhelmed is great.  The desire to slow down, ground ourselves in deep, meaningful relationships, nurture our spirit, achieve greater connection to the natural world, and, most important, take care of our precious bodies and minds is in great demand.

The good news is that our Jewish tradition is built on the fundamental belief that we need to take a day off to rest and rejuvenate our bodies, minds, and spirits. In Exodus, we are commanded to celebrate Shabbat in two ways: to zachor (remember) and to shamor (observe). Specifically, we are told:

Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Eternal…For in six days the Eternal made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day [God] ceased from work and was refreshed.

I think this is a compelling sign that we, too, need to honor the Divine, ourselves, the Jewish people, and the world around us by celebrating Shabbat – and here are five ways to both remember and observe.

  1. Plan to celebrate Shabbat. Lucky for us, Shabbat comes around every week. The hours from Friday evening to Saturday night offer us numerous ways to slow down and reflect on the past week. Take advantage of this time for yourself – alone or with friends, family, and community.
  2. Spend time over a Shabbat meal. I love to host Shabbat dinner, especially with guests from other faith traditions, ethnicities, and cultures. Although Shabbat doesn’t hold the same meaning for everyone (Jewish or not), sitting together around a table, nourishing one another physically and spiritually offers ample opportunity to create a meaningful and diverse Shabbat experience. To quote singer/songwriter Ani Difranco, “I know there is strength in the differences between us, I know there is comfort where we overlap.”
  3. Make Shabbat a family affair. Sadly, our kids are as plagued by “busyness” as the rest of us. Like us, they are overscheduled, overworked, and overstressed in all their pursuits. However, there are endless ways to engage with children on Shabbat that model the slowing down, unplugging, and reconnecting with each other that the day offers all of us. Some of my favorites include hosting a challah-making party to prepare for Shabbat or a Friday night song-session for a group of friends. Being together at a worship service, a Shabbat afternoon picnic (with a soccer ball or board game), or doing something else everyone enjoys are other ways you can spend time with one another on Shabbat.
  4. Embrace Shabbat rituals. Jewish tradition offers ample rituals to help us develop deeper relationships with ourselves and the greater Jewish people. One of my favorite rituals is lighting Shabbat candles as a concrete way to mark the end of the work week and the beginning of Shabbat. At the other end is Havdalah, which marks the end of Shabbat and offers us an opportunity to prepare our body, mind, and spirit to enter the work week once again.
  5. Rest. In our family, the Shabbat nap is highly coveted time and when it happens, it feels luxurious! If napping isn’t your thing, consider meditating, practicing restorative yoga, reading, strolling leisurely, or anything else that lets your body rest. It works hard for you 24/7, so honor it by slowing down and showing it some love.

As multitasking increasingly becomes the ideal, and we wear busyness like a badge of honor, don’t forget about Shabbat – a weekly chance to satisfy our craving for a slower pace, a bit of space, and time to nurture our most important relationships.

More information available on the website reformjudaism.org

Wishing you a peaceful weekend. Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Julia Margolis 

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