(One of my favorite musings from the early years is one I wrote in 1998 for parashat Emor, entitled "G"d’s Shabbat." I thought I might revisit that musing and flesh it out a bit.)
…Shabbat hi L’Ad"nai b’kol moshvoteikhem. (Lev 23:3 )
It shall be a Sabbath of the L"rd through your settlements (JPS)
It is a Sabbath to YHWH, throughout your settlements (Fox)
It is a Sabbath to YHWH in all your homes (Friedman)
or more poetically:
Wherever you may live, It is G"d’s Shabbat. (Or, more precisely, a Shabbat for G"d.)
Not our Shabbat, not a Shabbat for you, not the Shabbat given to us by G"d. A Shabbat for G"d. G"d’s Shabbat. Wherever we live. In all the places we live (Hmmm. What about places we lived, but perhaps are not currently occupying?)
We speak of "making Shabbat" or "keeping Shabbat" or "observing Shabbat" as if it were ours to have or not have. That is where we lead ourselves astray. It isn’t our Shabbat at all, and it’s not up to us to create Shabbat. Here Torah reminds us that it is Shabbat, whether we make, keep or observe it. That is the real magic. Shabbat is always there for us-all we have to do is reach out and embrace it. If there are times we have not kept Shabbat, that does not mean we have lost it forever. We can always partake of it.
We are not like Tantalus. Shabbat is never truly out of our reach. Yes, there are obstacles to observing Shabbat. Some are obstacles over which we exercise little control. Others are obstacles over which we exercise a great deal of control. If we really and truly want to partake of G"d’s Shabbat, it is there if we but reach out for it and grasp it – whether tentatively or firmly. If we let go, we do not lose it forever, but only for the moment.
Cars might drive down streets in Jerusalem, some Jews might work, or go to the mall, or mow their lawn. Nevertheless, it is still Shabbat. G"d made it so, and we cannot take that away, even with our transgressions. What a truly magnificent gift. I wonder what makes it so difficult for so many of us to accept this gift? Perhaps we fear a certain loss of control, a loss of connectedness to the outside world. (Why, just the other day, some 7th graders asked me, in earnest, why they shouldn’t be allowed to bring their cell phones to services and text their friends during them. That, they said, might actually get them to services and enjoy them. Of course, I asked them, if you spend the whole time texting your friends while at services, how can you possibly be enjoying the service and getting anything out of it? We can multi-task, they say. I tell them of all the studies that seem to show that the ability to multi-task is really a myth. So why go to services if you don’t get anything out of them? Because we have to go. I asked them what percentage of people at a typical service were actually there to get a serious spiritual experience through prayer. They guessed 15%. And the rest, I asked? Well, some of them are there out of a sense of obligation, others because they are being required or forced to come. Some are there just to say kaddish. Finally, a bon mot from one student who says that she thinks a lot of people are there trying to get or find something they need and can’t seem to get anywhere else. They still might not get it, but they keep trying. What an insight. But I digress. Shabbat isn’t about services, though it seems we’ve given an awful lot of importance to attending services on Shabbat, as opposed to actually "keeping" or "remembering" or "observing" or "doing" Shabbat.) If Shabbat is a gift, it seems to come with strings from the viewpoint of some people. Should it? Is it up to us to decide?
We ought not waste this gift, or insult its value by wantonly disregarding the commandment given to us – to remember Shabbat and keep it kadosh (holy.) Perhaps it might be better if cars weren’t driving down the streets of Jerusalem, some Jews weren’t working, or weren’t going to the mall. The ever available to us aspect of Shabbat is not license to waste it. Nevertheless, whether we observe it or not, it’ still Shabbat. Maybe, for some, it’s enough to have Shabbat vicariously (though this smacks of the of the sense of inauthenticity that often confounds liberal Jews and compels them to support Chabad.)
In another sense, knowing that there are people who really and truly find a way to do Shabbat gives me hope that perhaps someday I will do so as well. Of course, I don’t want to to surrender my authenticity. I may not be as observant as some, yet if I can find my own understanding of Shabbat, and my own way to keep and observe and do it, why should I always feel like I’m not doing enough? Do people who observe each jot and tittle of Halacha in observing Shabbat also feel this way – that they could still be doing more? I suspect the answer is yes (and if not, I question their complacency and self-satisfaction.) Judaism is a journey, a path with myriad twists and turns. G"d help me if I ever reach a place of such complacency that I feel there is no more I can do. Let me stumble down the path, experience and learn. When I reach a goal, insure that there is yet another. Nevertheless, at the same time, insure that I am not too hard on myself for my failures, and allow me my mistakes, that I may grow from them. Allow me to take a moment’s respite when needed, along the way – both when I’ve reached a goal, and when I’m simply on the path somewhere.
Thanks for this gift of Shabbat. For this challenge of Shabbat. For this puzzle of Shabbat. Maybe it always continue to be a gift, a challenge, and a puzzle.
More than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat kept Israel. No truer words were ever spoken.
May this Shabbat keep you and yours.
© 2010 (portions ©1998) by Adrian A. Durlester