Back in 1997, for my musing for Ki Tisa, I wrote:
“In one of his first successful big musicals, about the progenitors of one of Judaism’s daughter races (that “superstar” guy,) Andrew Lloyd Webber ended the musical with a strictly musical piece whose title was a new testament bible verse, John 19:41. Those who knew it by heart easily understood the message, and those who did not could easily find out.
Well, my Shabbat message this week is as simple:
Some years later, in 2003, I added a bit:
I’ll make it easier for you. These verses should be familiar to us all.
וְשָֽׁמְרוּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּת לַֽעֲשׂוֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּת לְדֹֽרֹתָם בְּרִית עוֹלָֽם: יז בֵּינִי וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אוֹת הִוא לְעֹלָם כִּי־שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה יְהוָֹה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שָׁבַת וַיִּנָּפַֽש
31:16 “V’shamru v’nei Yisrael et-haShabbat, la’asot et-haShabbat l’dorotam b’rit olam. 31: 17 Beini uvein b’nei Yisrael ot hi l’olam, ki sheishet yamin asa Adnai et-haShamayim v’et-haAretz, u’vayom haSh’vi’I shavat vayinafash.”
And the children of Israel shall keep Shabbat, making Shabbat throughout their generations, an eternal covenant. Between Me and the children of Israel it is a sign forever, for in six days Ad”nai made the heavens and the earth, and in the seventh day G”d ceased and was refreshed. (Freely adapted from Everett Fox’s translation.)
Now, here in 5775, I’m refreshing and adding to those two previous musings.
Let’s examine the verbs used in these two verses:
v’shamru, la’asot, asa, shavat, vayinafash. Three of them are verbs that describe action–v’shamru, to guard or keep; la’asot and asa, both forms of the “to do” or “make” verb. Two of them are verbs that appear to be more passive–shavat, to cease or rest; and vayinafash, to be refreshed.
However, is Shabbat intended to be a passive activity? If Shabbat is to do nothing, as some seem to think, how can one “do” nothing? How can one “guard” or “keep” the act of doing nothing (well, I guess I’ve known some teenagers quite capable of that. Come to think of it, adults, too.)
We are commanded to observe and to do Shabbat. Can one “do” Shabbat passively? Can one even “cease” passively? Do cars really stop on a dime? Not really. An object in motion has momentum. It cannot stop instantaneously, but must dump its kinetic energy so that it can be in a state of rest. (Actually, instantaneous stopping is probably possible, but can have some interesting, and often bad results and side effects. Car careening into wall or tree might be an example. That kinetic energy has to go somewhere – and it usually goes into the part of the car designed as the “crumple” zone. The airbags work to absorb the kinetic motion of the occupants. As an aside, of late I’ve encountered several science-fiction stories that portray space battles as being played out across huge distances, and realistically acknowledging the fact that spacecraft are unlikely to have the capability to just sort of hop around like fighter jets and make rapid acceleration or deceleration – that fleets of spaceships are more likely to fly past each other and engage only briefly, and then have to slow down their momentum and slowly turn around to engage each other again.)
People shifting into a “Shabbat state” are no different. Action is required to bring ourselves from our state of momentum during the rest of the week to the “resting state” of Shabbat. We have to find ways to dump our kinetic energy. Therefore, “making Shabbat” or “doing Shabbat” is not just a simple matter of stopping and doing nothing. The very act of stopping requires an energy transfer, and therefore, effort. Yes, power braking helps, but you still have to press on the brakes of your car to stop it. Ever driven a car without power brakes? It’s not so easy.
Our tradition recognizes that we need to exchange our kinetic energy so that we can truly “shavat.” The rituals and practices that have grown up around the concept of Shabbat are geared to help us make that transition. If we want to “do Shabbat” then our tradition offers the means we need to get there, and we ought to take advantage of those means. Doing those things we need to slow down our momentum and prepare to Shabbat illustrate why Shabbating is not a passive practice at all.
And what happens when we have successfully overcome our momentum to reach a state of Shabbat? Even when we’re doing nothing, we’re not really doing nothing. After all, our bodies must continue to do what they need to do to keep us alive, the most basic of which is breathing. Like G”d, on Shabbat, we, too, must refresh–yavinafash. From a Hebrew root that can mean, among other things, to draw breath, to breathe. And, as is often pointed it, it is in a reflexive form, so it could be thought as “refreshing one’s self” or “re-souling one’s soul,” or in this particular case, G”d re-souling G”d’s self. I love how Hebrew is rich with such complexity.
So here’s the funny thing. You’ve probably seen me write elsewhere that I’m not entirely convinced that Shabbat is about not doing certain things. I explained at length why I might not choose to participate in the annual national day of unplugging for Shabbat. I’m not opposed to the idea, but I’m also not entirely convinced that unplugging is always the best way for me to keep Shabbat. So that musing, alongside this one, demonstrate my ever-present inconsistency. I’ll admit that I revel in it. We all should. Shabbat-ing can be experienced in many different ways, and although our traditions holds there are only certain acceptable ways, I’m all for pushing the envelope in that regard. I make music all week long. I teach. Is Shabbat-ing, for me, not making music, not teaching? Heaven forbid. (We can debate the merits of making music with and without instruments on Shabbat. When instruments are not available to me (or not acceptable for use on Shabbat in the community where I am davening, I can still make music. So, should I not even sing? Some definitions of Shabbat do indeed ask us to refrain from our labors. Does a rabbi then stop being rabbinic on Shabbat? I know that’s a ridiculous case, but given some of the extremes the rabbis considered in their debates…)
On the seventh day, G”d shabbat-ed, and re-souled G”d’s self. So on the seventh day, we shabbat, and re-soul ourselves. Whatever any of that means. which is precisely the point. However you see and interpret the concept of shin-bet-tav, shabbat, and however you read and interpret “vayinafash,” you have the opportunity to do what that means for you. It could mean a very traditional Shabbat. It could mean a nice family dinner. It could mean a full morning of services. It could mean a walk in the woods. It could mean a musician spends Shabbat learning to sculpt, or a banker learning to play the harp. It could be a day of disconnecting and unplugging, or it could be a day of using modern technology to reconnect with people and family you don’t connect with often. Maybe, for you, with your job, spending a Shabbat at the mall is your way of “shabbating.” Some may judge us on our choices – I’m not going to be one of those judging others for their choices on how to observe, do, keep, or make Shabbat. For some it may be an obligation, but for all, it is a gift.
Shabbat-it’s like taking a big breath. Open wide and breath–Shabbat is coming.
©2015 (portions ©1997 and 2003) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this parasha:
Ki Tissa 5774 – Faith Amnesia (and Anger Management)
Ki Tissa/Shabbat Parah 5773 – Fortune and Men’s Eyes (Redux and Revised)
Ki Tisa 5772 – Other G”d?
Ki Tisa 5771 – Still Waiting for the Fire
Ki Tisa 5770 – A Fickle Pickle
Ki Tisa 5768-Not So Easy? Not So Hard!
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5767-New Hearts and New Spirits
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5766-Fortune and Men’s Eyes
Ki Tisa 5765-Re-Souling Ourselves
Ki Tisa 5764-A Musing on Power Vacuums
Ki Tisa 5763-Shabbat is a Verb
Ki Tisa 5762-Your Turn
Ki Tisa 5760-Anger Management
Ki Tisa 5761-The Lesson Plan