I have to be honest. When I think about Shabbat, the first thing that comes to mind is not a synagogue or religious service or anything like that. What comes to mind is an advertisement from my youth. I see the face of an American Indian wearing a slightly whimsical look of satisfaction and joy on his face… and holding a ginormous corned beef sandwich in his hand. Below the photo, the ad simply says: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye.”
That’s how I feel about Shabbat. You don’t have to be Jewish to love Shabbat. You don’t have to be Jewish to allow yourself to take a time-in and reclaim your sense of wholeness and to deeply connect with others. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest and celebration, begins on Friday at sunset and ends on Saturday around the same time. Its origin is shared by all of us — not just Jews — as it was written in Genesis that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. What differs is which day you consider the seventh. The Torah goes on to say that without this rest, creativity would be impossible. That’s true for all of us, regardless of ethnicity, religion or anything else. As much as you might try, you just can’t be your most generative, best, most creative self without a regular habit of renewal. Shabbat is a gift that keeps on renewing you if you understand how to receive, to ritualize and to honor it.
There are many ways to honor and ritualize the renewing beauty of Shabbat. For some it’s a 24-hour period of observance with many rules. But it doesn’t have to be. For me, Shabbat centers around Friday night dinner; as far as I’m concerned there is nothing (well, almost nothing) more intimate and loving than sharing a communal meal comprised of great food, great company and stimulating conversation. Hippocrates said it best: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”
The aromas, taste, texture and presentation of meals does something wonderful to our senses. Any one of those elements can bring you back to a moment in time. One poignant memory is of my Oma, my German grandmother, cooking an enormous meal in her tiny kitchen. She, along with my Opa (grandfather), my father and uncle escaped Hitler’s wrath during World War II and settled in Forest Hills, New York. Not religious, Oma knew that one of the things that would keep her family whole would be to continue the traditions of our ancestors. Her matzoh ball soup was dreamy. When asked for the recipe all she would say was: “It’s made with love.”
That’s really all you really need to know. If you want to try offering a Shabbat dinner as a way to undo from the week, don’t worry about the meal itself. Set your intention to provide a boundary between the workweek and this time set aside to renew. As we move at the speed of life we inevitably shut down some parts of ourselves by doing, doing, doing, and, in the process, often losing what matters most: our sense of wholeness and connection, our health and our sense of purpose and joy. Shabbat offers an experience of mindfulness and undoing.
It doesn’t need to be Friday night, of course; it could be Saturday or Sunday or any day or mealtime that becomes a ritual for you. But the ritual component is important.
I believe deeply in the power of Shabbat in my personal life and also, I believe in its power from a professional point of view as a coach of almost 15 years. I work with clients who are highly educated, often highly successful and b-u-s-y. A constant refrain reflects their sense of running to keep up with their life as if they have no choice and seemingly no possibility for respite. I often hear that one of the things they find most powerful about our coaching conversations has to do with the depth, quality and substance of the topics we discuss. I have news for you: You don’t have to hire a coach or a therapist to have meaningful conversation.
In fact, I’m going to be offering a series on monthly prompts for an ongoing series for Thrive. I’ll share conversation starters: things you can ponder on your own — because pondering is a lost art — or things to discuss with friends during your version of Shabbat.
Today I’d like to share a question inspired by a similar one posed recently by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, California:
When reflecting upon the barrage of messages we consciously and unconsciously receive in print, digital and all other forms of media, ask yourself: Do I need what I want? Or do I want what it is I need?
The former is the reality more often than not. The latter, while requiring more consciousness and discipline actually leads to a level of clarity and simplicity that is easier to maintain, less stressful and more joyous. And that is my Shabbat wish for you.
Barbara will be leading a workshop called The Consciously Curated Life.