On some weeks, Shabbat arrives like a surprise visit from an old friend. We say, “Hey! I wasn’t expecting to see you here… come give me a hug!” Other weeks it feels like the timing is off. “You again? So soon? Weren’t you just here?” Then there are the weeks when Shabbat is just one more thing to plan for and worry about. “Ok, who’s coming over when with whom? How many meals do I need to prep?”
Occasionally, Shabbat can’t come fast enough. We look out the window. We check the calendar. We go to various websites. We plaintively ask, “When is Shabbat going to get here?” We need Shabbat. We need the respite from the crush of labor and the incessant yammering of people who say they know what’s good for us. We need to strive for some level of spiritual wholeness, a developed sense that we are not the center of the Universe, the truth that we are dependent on people – friends and strangers alike – to take care of us, to share in the stewardship of our world, our lives.
We push so hard all the time. We want to get ahead; that’s one of the most important rules of the game, is it not? Time becomes a boxing cage. Time turns into an ever shrinking space that will crush us unless we can slip under the closing vault door before its too late. Shabbat comes to the rescue.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote that… “the Sabbath is entirely independent of the month and unrelated to the moon. Its date is not determined by any event in nature, such as the new moon, but by the act of creation. Thus, the essence of the Sabbath is completely detached from the world of space. The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath, we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day to which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
But: here’s the thing. If you don’t embrace Shabbat, there is no other true respite like it. Embracing Shabbat doesn’t mean you must become Orthodox and obey Jewish law about driving and using electricity, and so forth. In fact, it’s all too easy for observant Jews to get stuck in the minutiae of ritual without looking up to see the arrival of the Shabbat bride. With all the worry about lights left on and off and screw tops on bottles pre-opened before sunset and the temperature of the cooking surface left on overnight, there’s not a lot of room for actually attuning to holiness in time.
For postmodern Jews who don’t carve out even a sliver of Shabbat space in their lives, a great treasure is discarded. To sanctify time on Shabbat is to get real and get centered. Even if all you do is light candles or have a family meal or even come to services! I always say that if you come once every six weeks, at the end of the year, I guarantee that your life will change for the better. Trust me, it’s true.
So get out your smartphone and schedule a Friday night at the temple, one every 6 or 7 or 8 weeks. Commit! Dare to find a small island of the sacred. You don’t have to sing or dance, though you can if you want to. You can come in and sit in the back the whole time without getting up. Just come and float in the warmth of Shabbat, of music and spirit and stories and community and laughter and tears. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.