Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Because it’s Shabbat (5772 Noach)

In Genesis on October 28, 2011 at 10:00 am

Day like no other
Every week of the year
For us, together

We hear a lot of things about Shabbat.  “Shabbat is good.”  “Remember the Sabbath.”  “You should come to Temple on Shabbat.”  These are all fair statements, but how long has it been since you asked yourself “What is Shabbat, and what does it mean for me?”

Shabbos is the crown of creation, and the first Jewish holiday, as we read in parsha B’reishith.  It is also the best.  The first question to ask is “G-d took off from work today.  What could I possibly be doing that’s more important than G-d’s work?”  Put another way, “what could I possibly be doing that’s more important than resting?”

I question why most “secular” Jews attend the so-called “High Holidays” more than Shabbat.  The High Holidays are a lot of “work” by our standards.  You take the days off from work, but you still have to dress up for work, and then spend the whole day at Temple listening to long services that hold little or no meaning for you.  Can you derive any joy from these isolated experiences of Judaism when you don’t address the larger whole?  What roles do reward and punishment play for you in Jewish religiosity if you don’t appreciate their value and meaning?  More importantly, why take a day off work to obsess over more work?  Is this as repulsive as it sounds?  Does this make any sense?

Shabbos, meanwhile, is meant to be effortless.  And this is how it’s supposed to be, for “you shall do no work on this day.”  How is it effortless?  Shabbat is three things:  prayer, thanksgiving, and celebration.  Let’s quickly investigate these three things.

Prayer, in layman’s terms, is “that thing you do at services.”  But let’s ask ourselves, what is prayer?  Is prayer a set of formulaic statements?  Is prayer an ad lib statement?  Can prayer be danced and sung?  Can prayer be seeing, or reading, or studying?  Can prayer be fun?

Thanksgiving, also in layman’s terms, is “thank you.”  In America, its also a holiday where we celebrate our gifts and blessings by eating lots of turkey.  Let’s ask, do you know what thanksgiving is?  What does it mean to be thankful?

Celebration is the easiest for us to understand.  Let’s party!  Let’s have friends over and open a bottle of wine.  Are all celebrations jovial occasions?  Can you celebrate after a car accident, in the hospital, or at a funeral?  Can you celebrate running a marathon at 5 am or sleeping in?

What makes Shabbos so wonderful is you provide all three ingredients for the price of one:  the proper kavannah, intent, to enjoy Shabbat.  With the proper intent, which can be as simple as, “because it’s Shabbat, I’m free to do this,” your rest on the day becomes free as well.

If you enjoy prayer, as Tevye in Fiddle on the Roof says, “if I were rich I’d have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray…and I’d read the holy books with the learned men seven hours every day.”  Shabbat affords us time to pray.  You can go to synagogue or sit at home with Torah.  Not all riches are measured in dimes.  Study enriches us too.  Is that something to be thankful for?  Is that something to celebrate?

If you enjoy thanksgiving, Shabbat gives you plenty of time to engage in acts of loving kindness.  Volunteer at a hospital or soup kitchen.  Give to charity.  Call a loved one, or make peace with a rival.  What better way to give thanks than to share what you have with those who have not?  Is action a form of prayer?  Is sharing a form of celebration?

If you enjoy celebrating, and who doesn’t, Shabbat gives you plenty of time to celebrate.  The key is time to celebrate.  Do something special for yourself, “because its Shabbos.”  Sleep in.  Read a novel.  Take your dog on a nice long stroll.  Or, if want some festivity, throw a party!  Invite friends over to usher in the holiday.  Eat.  Drink.  Sing.  Dance.  Why?  Because its Shabbos.  Shabbat is a gift first.  Make it a point to enjoy each moment.  Is enjoyment prayer?  Is enjoyment thanksgiving?

How can one truly “rest” if one doesn’t enjoy what one is doing?

You may say “I can party any day of the week.  What makes a party on Shabbos so special?”  Kavannah is the answer, the catalyst.  And the proper kavannah here is “because its Shabbat.”

Because, its Shabbat.

***

Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5
Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

What was it like for Noah and his family on the ark?  How must they have felt with nothing to do but care for the animals?  Was the work ever finished?  Did they ever pray, give thanks, and celebrate being on the ark?  Did they have Shabbos?

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