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Hitting Pause

Shabbat is an Idea whose time Has Come

It may seem nonsensical to suggest that a religious practice spelled out in the Bible—the day of rest from Genesis, the sanctity of the Sabbath Day from the Fourth Commandment—is just now coming into full bloom, but I am convinced that a weekly pause, whether biblically mandated or voluntarily adopted, is an idea more relevant today than at any time in history.

What is the complaint of our time? We are always on, perpetually connected to multiple worlds, since technology has given us so many virtual realms. The defining numeric expression of our age is 24/7.Maybe what was written 3,000 years before Apple was a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye, or a ringtone in everyone’s purse or pocket, was a message meant just for us: Stop and recharge your battery.

Six days a week, we can interact with people on six continents, using every available means of communication. On the seventh day, if we allow ourselves a level of Shabbat observance, local and real take precedence over global and virtual. Our space becomes palpable, filled with face-to-face encounters, people we can touch and hug. We live for 24 hours on the Sea of Tranquility’s floor, waters parted by the power of our own choice, holding back the technology that allows us to surf invisible waves but also makes us look down at a touchscreen instead of up at a majestic sunset.

Once, the day of rest highlighted our freedom from slavery under Pharaoh; today it offers us independence from labor saving devices that run faster than our capacity to understand whether we drive the machines, or they drive us.

I have never been fully Shabbat observant, but I always appreciated the rhythm and ritual the day represented in the life of a committed Jew. As my life grew busier,  I also developed a deeper appreciation of its power and promise. Becoming Hadassah’s National President was the culmination of decades of volunteer Jewish service and the fulfillment of a dream. But it also brought me a supercharged schedule that could fill 10 days a week if I let it.

So, I don’t. Friday night and Saturday bring peace. My husband and I like to go to our synagogue, where we connect with friends and community in person. We listen to the wisdom from our rabbi. We savor the musical cadence of Shabbat not from a YouTube video but from our chazzan, in person, in a real sanctuary. At home, we concentrate on family.

As much as my work for Hadassah gives my life purpose, I draw strength from it even more because of the time I have to disconnect. After 24 hours, I’m ready when the world starts to speed up again.

Seen from the outside, many may think of Shabbat as confining, an acceptance of spatial restriction and sacrifice. But people who observe Shabbat to any degree see things from the inside. What looks like restriction is actually release. What looks like confinement is actually—depending on one’s own reading—personal reflection, communal connection or spiritual awakening.

Most of our electronic devices have more resources than we will ever understand, let alone use. Maybe we should look at time the same way. For a life with less stress, we can delete version 24/7 and upload 24/6. That way Shabbat truly becomes an idea whose time has come—once a week.

Ellen Hershkin is the National President of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA)

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