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Introducing Shabbat: A Day of Rest

Inspired by the tradition of Shabbat, we talk to thought leaders, celebs, and, of course, our community, about making a day of unplugging and recharging an essential part of their week.

Markus Ottitsch / EyeEm/ Getty Images

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” – Genesis 2: 1 – 3.

We all know that story of creation from the Bible. Whether you’re a believer or not, the significance is that the idea of taking a day of rest is woven into the very fabric of all existence, from the beginning of time. And some version of rest, downtime, contemplative thought, is a part of every spiritual and philosophical tradition.

Obviously, in the biblical narrative, God didn’t need to take the 7th day off – but he was sending us a message. Because, unlike him, we do need to. But in our modern world, the worries and concerns and duties of those other six days have crept into the 7th, creating a culture of non-stop, 24/7 work.

But now there’s a growing realization about the age-old wisdom of the Sabbath – one that’s both fueled and increasingly validated by modern science. And that’s why I’m so excited to be announcing our new special section called Shabbat: A Day of Rest, which will be exploring from all angles the benefits of disengaging from our worldly pursuits – how it can deepen our connections with our loved ones and with ourselves, how it can actually make us more productive at the jobs we’re taking a break from, and how it helps create more meaning and purpose in our lives. Rabbi Jay Moses, the Vice President of the interdenominational Wexner Foundation, will serve as Editor-At-Large. As he put it in his launch post: “This section of Thrive Global will serve as a forum to explore the concept of Shabbat. We will explore the infinite manifestations of a simple and profound day to unplug and reconnect.”

The etymology of “Shabbat” comes from the root Shin-Bet-Tav, and the idea is associated with two other commands, to remember (zachor) and to observe (shamor). In our always on culture, with devices that allow us to carry our work with us wherever we go, it’s very easy to do neither. Shabbat ends with the ceremony of Havdalah in which participants thank God for distinguishing “light and darkness” and “the seventh day of rest and the six days of labor.”

And when we disconnect from work, not only do we more deeply connect with others and ourselves, we work better, as well. That’s the central thesis of Alex Soojung-Kim Pang: “Work and rest aren’t opposites like black and white or good and evil. They’re more like different points on life’s wave.” And that lovely idea, born from Genesis, has been conclusively proven since. “In the last couple of decades,” he writes, “discoveries in sleep research, psychology, neuroscience, organizational behavior, sports medicine, sociology and other fields have given us a wealth of insight into the unsung but critical role that rest plays in strengthening the brain, enhancing learning, enabling inspiration, and making innovation sustainable.”

That’s why the principles behind Shabbat extend far beyond Judaism. “It is truly an idea meant for everyone,” writes Rabbi Moses. “Interestingly, the Hebrew Bible, which is often very concerned with the unique and distinct covenantal responsibilities of the Israelite tribe, explicitly includes the broader community in its mandate to celebrate Shabbat. Employees, guest sojourners, even cattle are to be granted a day of rest along with the Jewish household.”

And the idea is catching on, popping up in all parts of our culture. In 2016, even Katy Perry pined for it. “I wish there was a thing like Shabbat that wasn’t particularly religious-based,” she said, “that was kind of a worldwide day where we’re not on our phones — like a movement.” And she reiterated her call when I interviewed her the next year on the Thrive Global podcast.

And when Thrive interviewed On Being host Krista Tippett, she talked about how important disconnecting for a day is to her. “I try to take technology sabbaths, both small ones and large ones,” she said. “I aspire to take part of the weekend off completely—not doing email, not on social media…Those are detoxifying experiences.”

Then there’s the Sabbath Manifesto, which describes itself as “a small group of artists, writers, filmmakers and media professionals who, while not particularly religious, felt a collective need to fight back against our increasingly fast-paced way of living.” The ten items on their manifesto include, “Avoid technology,” “Connect with loved ones,” “Nurture your health,” and “Give back.”

But whatever you do, what’s most important is that you create that time and space in your life to unplug and recharge. However you do it, you’ll find renewal on the other side. “In the place of striving and commerce,” writes Rabbi Moses, “we are instructed simply to be: to rest, rejoice, be with family and friends, eat and drink for pleasure, talk about what really matters, sing, pray, and give thanks for our blessings.”

And (while you’re still plugged in!) you can start by exploring our new section, where you’ll find personal stories, inspiration, and tools and strategies for incorporating a day of rest into your life. We have Rabbi Angela Buchdahl’s moving piece on how Shabbat allows you to add time back into your life and savor everyday moments; Rabbi Joshua Rabin on how Shabbat has helped relieve his status anxiety that stemmed from social media, and fashion designer Misha Nonoo on the value of taking some time off from being a busy entrepreneur.

And we want to hear from you, too. What does Shabbat mean to you in a religious sense? And if the Sabbath is not part of your religion and culture, what does a day of rest mean to you? How do you disconnect? What rituals have you created in your family? What challenges have you faced? Please add your voice to the conversation.

As Rabbi Moses writes, “Shabbat is a gift to all of us. We need only unwrap that gift.”

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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