Excerpted from authors new book, "Don't Mind If I Do" available on Amazon.
Shabbat can be a grand time. Lots of food, friends, family, socializing, naps. Sign me up!
But, in order to get a deeper understanding of this awesome holiday that comes every week from sunset on Friday to nightfall Saturday evening, you must understand what exactly are you celebrating and how can Jewish practice lead to a weekly retreat for your mind.
You might have heard this one before. God made the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Therefore, we also rest on the 7th during Shabbat. If that makes sense to you, you can stop right here.
But for me, I have a few questions. That might have sufficed when I was 6, but as an adult, something doesn’t exactly sit right.
Why exactly did God rest? Was He tired from a hard week at the office? Was it those black holes and supernovas that tired Him out? And what does this have to do with me? What does it even mean that God rested?
Is His Divine Throne some sort of heavenly Lazy Boy? Does God enjoy a good red wine with His brisket too?
Something just doesn’t add up.
Take a look at the Torah text to try to make some sense of this.
I mean on the 7th… wait a second! Which one is it?
Rashi (The Medieval Super Commentary on the Torah) picks up on this contradiction and pulls out the following idea to its defense.
Yes, God finished creating everything in 6 days. Light, air, earth, water, fish, animals and people. The whole thing. Finito La Comedia!
But there was one thing left in the universe that was not yet created.
Rest. God created rest on the 7th day.
This is a fascinating observation. Now clearly, the rest He is referring to does not mean sleep.
Armadillos and llamas slept already. They ate well too. They didn’t need Shabbat for this.
Yet there was another type of rest that was not found across the far corners of the universe.
It was mindfulness.
Yes, creatures get exhausted from a hard day of hunting prey in the savanna. They collapse in fatigue. Grizzly bears bury themselves for months at a time in a deep hibernation.
But to actively step back from your labor, to appreciate it even though your body could continue working. That is Divine. That is rest. That is mindfulness.
Guard and Remember.
These two principles practically enable you to achieve this mindful awareness that is so apt for the day.
The first practical tool of Shabbat is Remembering, Zachor. On a simple level, it involves reciting the Kiddush prayer over a cup of wine or grape juice Friday night. (Who doesn’t like a glass of Merlot to end off the week?)
But there is a deeper level involved here too.
Being mindful and living in the present does not mean that you become oblivious to past experiences and future events. Real mindfulness is exactly the opposite. It means being acutely aware of your past and who you are based on where you came from.
The difference is that a mindful person does not live in the past. They don’t ruminate or regret and languish in previous challenges. They bring their past into the present. They don’t ask “only if,” they ask “now what.” There is a psychological principle called “closure”. It is usually applied to negative events in one’s past, but it can be used for the positive as well. The principle holds that in order for any individual to move beyond an event and bring their life into the present, they need closure. They need to wrap things up. Understand that it’s over. Have a sense of completion. In its negative form, the process of Jewish burial and mourning is based upon this concept. In order to ever move on and continue one’s life after the loss of a loved one, you have to fully confront the tragedy, recognize your emotions, come to completion and only then can you move to be comforted.
The same holds true for the positive. In order to really celebrate anything in life, you must come to closure too. If in your financial goals, the moment you hit the million-dollar mark, you are just looking forward to
how you will earn 2 million, you never appreciate what you have. It wasn’t really a moment at all. And it’s like that in every area of life. When’s the last time you took an opportunity to take stock of what you have accomplished?
This is the power of Remembering. We remember Shabbat and the creation of the world. You trace yourself all the way back to the Grandest Plan, understanding that you are the product of an unbelievable story unfolding. In a personal sense too, you become mindful of everything you accomplished that week. All of your work and toil. Your failure and success. Its closure. Time to celebrate and rejoice. Time to cut your losses and move on.
Remember who are you and where you came from. But understand that next week contains a fresh leaf and boundless opportunities. The second is to guard. Shomer Shabbat. Seems a little funny. Does Shabbat need me to stand watch like a British soldier outside Buckingham Palace?
The guarding here refers to refraining from doing creative types of labor. Taking something in the physical world and transforming it. Sewing, cooking, writing, etc. Electronics fall in this category too. Power down
your devices for 24 hours. No driving also. Think about what that does for your mindfulness. If the whole point of
mindfulness is to be fully aware of the present, refraining from creative labor takes your perspective out of everyday chores and changing the world around you. It allows you to focus on the here and now. Judaism does not shy away from being involved in the world. Quite the opposite. But one day a week the human mind needs a retreat. To stop going and to just be.
This principle goes so far that you are not even supposed to plan for the future or prepare for it in any way. If you want to wash the dishes Friday night because you hate filthy dishes, go for it. But if you are doing it so you can save time on Sunday, you missed the point. Stop trying to save time and start enjoying it.
It’s not just that you don’t go to work or school. Shabbat challenges you to actually view all your work as being completed.
Of course, on Sunday there are bills to pay, errands to do, papers to write and deadlines to meet. But not on Shabbat. Shabbat is an active frame of mind that you don’t have to let the pressure of life become your life. You
are independent from it.
You can be in debt thousands of dollars. But that is not you. That is your bank account.
By pulling back from the world, you remind yourself that your ultimate being is living in the present, without regret from the past or worry to the future.
Shabbat is an island in time and an island deserves to be well guarded.