Shabbat: A Day of Rest//

How Shabbat Taught Me the Unexpected Power of Not Doing Something

You would think that taking a day off to rest would be easy, but it's more challenging than it seems.

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Have you ever struggled to do something that is not good for you? You know that you should not have the extra cookie, or piece of cake, yet you eat it anyway? You should pass on the Diet Coke, but that cool, crisp taste calls out to you, and you indulge? You buy those sparkly expensive shoes. We have all done it. Ignored our better instincts, and indulged in what is right in front of us. It’s natural. It’s human. 

Given the inclination we all have to enjoy ourselves, you would think that taking a day off to rest would be easy. Who doesn’t want to lounge around eating and laughing with family and friends? However, the reality is much more complicated. If we are not at work, many of us can check in via the email on our phones. Or we have to attend to the needs of life at home, someone has to cook, clean, run errands, and make sure the kids do their homework.  Taking 24 hours to not do any of those things is a luxury most of us don’t indulge in. 

How to do something that I know is good for me, specifically taking a day off, is something I have struggled with this past year. Since I started thinking about going to rabbinical school my junior year of college, I have observed Shabbat. For me, three Shabbat observances have remained consistent over the years. I don’t write, cook, or spend money on Saturday. Refraining from these three acts sets Shabbat apart and makes it like no other day of the week. I have always enjoyed the rush to get meals cooked before sundown on Friday. Being able to turn off email, and the demands of work for 24 hours is necessary for my type A personality. I would never stop working without this self-imposed structure. And then there is shopping. I love shopping. Not shopping, like not working, is hard yet good for me. I can wait to run errands, or buy that pretty dress I saw online. It is amazing what you can not do when you cannot spend money for a day. These three Shabbat observances allow me to slow down, focus on my family and friends, and otherwise allow me to breath in a way I can’t the other six days of the week. I have benefited from this practice for over twenty years. 

So why would I rethink it now? I am human. It is hard to resist doing the easy things that are right in front of me. Just like I often eat the extra cookie, or drink the Diet Coke, this year, in particular, when I have taken on a new and demanding job, I have been tempted again and again to give up my Shabbat practice. Instead of loving cooking for Shabbat this year, I have had to rely on my husband picking up pre-made food. So why not just relax my own strictures, and cook on Saturday? It seems so easy. And all those errands that need to be run. I live in the last part of the country that still observes Blue Laws, the stores are not open on Sunday, why not get everything done on Saturday instead of supporting Amazon and doing so much online ordering? And then there is actual work. In my job, I could work 24/7 and still not get it all done. Shouldn’t I just buckle down and write on Shabbat so I can get things done?

Time and time again this past year, I have been tempted to give up my Shabbat observance. It feels like life would be easier if I did. And yet, I know deep down that doing so would actually make my life worse. I need to stick to these practices for my greater health. I need one day that is different, and separate from the rest. In Hebrew the word is “kadosh.” Kadosh is often translated as holy, but it really means, different or separate. This one day a week when I do not do my other daily activities gives me the strength I need to keep going. It allows me to step away from the daily demands of life. Because I don’t work, or run errands, I spend Shabbat afternoon hanging out with friends, eating, playing games, and laughing. I have time to lounge on the couch with my daughter. I have time to indulge in the simple pleasure of taking an afternoon nap. If I give up my Shabbat practice, this would all quickly disappear. I would be running myself ragged all the time, every day. 

Ahad Ha’am, one of the founders of Zionism, famously said, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Until this year, I did not really understand this quote. It was like a Zen Koan, a puzzle to meditate on. Now I understand. My Shabbat practices have kept me anchored in my life. They have quite literally kept me sane. Though the Shabbat observance I have taken on myself can be hard, it is worth it. I need one day a week when I know I will have the time to connect with friends and family. So for now, while I will eat the extra cookie, and drink my Diet Coke (a habit I really should break), I am going to keep my Shabbat practice. What about you? Is there something in your life that if you refrained from doing it for 24 hours would open the opportunity for other things to happen?  How would you benefit from not doing something? 

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