Shabbat: A Personal Reflection

By Vicky Glikin
(originally posted in Ten Minutes of Torah)

Run, run, run.  Do, do, do.  Create, create, create.  I-phones, Blackberries, Facebook, e-mail.  Appointments, schedules, meetings, commitments.  Go, go, go.  If we think we are busy, just imagine how busy God must have been in the first six days of Creation when light, darkness, the heavens above, the earth below, day, night, bodies of water, birds, animals, insects, plants, and people all needed to be envisioned and created.  Having completed all of this work: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on this day God ceased from all of the work of Creation that God had done.” (Genesis 2:3)  In one short Torah verse, God’s actions teach us two powerful lessons: 1) we need rest, and 2) cessation from work is to be sanctified.

While saying that we need rest may seem obvious, actually making the time for rest is quite challenging.  We live in a world where technological advances have come to mean that we are constantly bombarded with information and are always within easy reach of others.  Please do not get me wrong – technology is wonderful and I truly cannot imagine my life without access to 24/7 communication and information.  However, what does it mean when we receive phone calls from work during our family dinner or on the weekend?  What does it mean when we are expected to bring work home at night or on our days off?  What does it mean when going on vacation requires bringing along your work computer, regularly checking your e-mails, and responding to any arising issues?  Is this really rest?   When in this hectic lifestyle can we find the time to reflect on our own lives, to give undivided attention to our friends and loved ones, to think, to dream, to imagine?  At what point do the costs of living in a 24/7 society outweigh the benefits?  The answer to this question is different for different people, but I would suggest that prioritizing time for ourselves and our loved ones on a weekly basis is a necessity, rather than a luxury.  If God could afford to rest – to completely cease from work, so can we. 

If making time for rest is difficult, feeling good about taking that rest can be even more challenging.  How many of us need to make excuses when leaving the office before our co-workers, despite having put in a full-day’s work?  How many of us check our phones for new e-mails while playing with our kids or spending time with our friends and family?  How many of us feel guilty about taking a whole day off during our “busy season” at work?  Yet, the story of Shabbat, as presented in the book of Genesis, teaches us that rather than feeling guilty about taking rest, we are to sanctify it and make it holy – just like God blessed the day of rest and made it holy. 

On Shabbat, we recite a special prayer – “V’shamru,” in which we are told that on the seventh day God “shavat vayinafash” – God ceased from work and was refreshed (Exodus 31:16-17).  The word vayinafash is related to the word nefesh – soul.  We learn in the Talmud a teaching by Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, which states that on Shabbat we receive an extra soul from God, which is then taken back until the next Shabbat (BT Beitsah 16A).  Thus, resting on Shabbat is an event of cosmic and mystical significance – it is a day in which we have the opportunity to cease from work and to emulate God, to set this day apart from the rest of the week, thereby making it holy.  Drawing this boundary between Shabbat and the rest of the week may be a difficult thing to do, but the opportunity to reconnect with our selves, with our friends and family, and with God makes the effort worthwhile.

Vicky Glikin is a fifth year Cantorial student at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion.  She is an alumna of the Wexner Fellowship and the Student Cantor at Temple Sholom in Fanwood, NJ, where she resides with her husband Vlad and their children Adam, Michelle, and Samuel Noam, who celebrated his first Shabbat on October 28, 2011.

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