An Ode to Shabbat



by Stacey Zisook Robinson

This has been a long week. Lately, they all seem long.

The days push and pull at me, demanding my attention, my devotion, my energy. At the end of the day, when darkness gathers in small corners and the noise of the day skitters at the edge of consciousness, I lay, exhausted but wired, willing my mind to calm, to rest, to slow down (please, God! let it slow down) so I can sleep. But I don’t. I court sleep like a coy lover. It is elusive, teasing me with a promise of rest, only to flee at the last possible second, leaving me tangled in sweat-dampened sheets.

Again and again, I repeat this dance, and eventually I sleep. For a couple of hours, I am at rest. But the alarm rings too early, its shrill buzz shattering the morning quiet. I am awake, even as my cramped fingers scritch across my nightstand in search of the snooze button on my alarm, which screeches shrilly, incessant and raucous and deafening. I am awake, mostly. I drift on a sea of not-quite: not morning quite yet, but no longer night; neither asleep nor awake, but aware. I just need a few more minutes, hours, days. Please.

And just as suddenly as the days tumble and race through the week, barreling (seemingly) into one another, it is Shabbat: timeless and in-between, outside and separate. Suddenly, I can breathe. I am at rest.

I love this time of year. I sit in the sanctuary on Friday night, my skin still buzzing with the noise of the week, my head in a million different places everywhere at once, and I watch the light outside the window as it ushers in Shabbat. I cannot see the sun, only the light as it changes, mellows and deepens. The wild grasses are tipped in gold and a single tree, dusty green and brown, gathers shadows under a darkening sky, a slow study in purple and grey and black. The sky goes from the pale blue of a summer day to a luminous cerulean blue.

Shabbat is here at last, the beautiful bride, dancing in from the fields just as surely as the Kabbalists rejoiced a few hundred years ago. It is a celebration, a promise in song and prayer and light. Is it the light of creation? Some have argued it is, that the light of Shabbat is so pure, so perfect, it is the remembrance of creation that shines on us for a brief and timeless time. I don’t know; I would like to believe it, and so I do.

My heart is not as calcified, as protected as it once was, when I was angry with God and my only prayer was a quick “forget you.” I declared my disbelief in God to any who would listen, and to many who wouldn’t. What I didn’t share was my secret belief that it was God who didn’t believe in me. It has softened, my heart; it is not quite so protected these days. God and I are pretty tight, I think. And so, with all my weary heart, I take comfort that Shabbat is a gift, a promise from God: we can rest, we can breathe. We step outside of time, to celebrate, to study, to renew, to listen, to love, to find the sacred, remember the holy.

And for this brief and timeless time, I find rest, I find God, I find peace.

Shabbat Shalom.

Stacey Zisook Robinson is a member of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL, and Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe, IL. She blogs at Stumbling towards meaning:  Stacey’s Blog.

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3 Responses to “An Ode to Shabbat”

  1. avatar

    This is a beautiful, moving, touching, thoughtful, and deeply spiritual piece. Thank you so very much for submitting it.

    I have a reputation for being a rationalist who jumps at the opportunity to gently (or not so gently) criticize beliefs and practices which smack of “mysticism”, but there are some exceptions to this, such as my belief in a personal God. I can infer from your writing on Shabbat that you have read The Sabbath by Heschel, and I too have been profoundly influenced by that book. I have no trouble believing in ways that Shabbat is “special” or “holy”, such as your beautiful thought about the light being the pure, “first” light. My only caveat is that any of these special qualities, even if borderline “supernatural”, are conferred on the Sabbath by our sanctification of it, and not inherent to the Day as many traditional-minded people believe. I used to not believe in any of this at all, but, like you, I would LIKE to believe, and so I do. There should be no shame in deriving comfort and meaning in this way, though I will probably soon eat my words when they are used to combat my criticism of the things people do for the sake of deriving “meaning”.

  2. avatar

    I am continually amazed and delighted to read Stacey’s writing. It is evocative and thoughtful, and brings me to a place, always, of solace and peace. Thank you Stacey.

  3. avatar
    Linda K. Wertheimer (@Lindakwert) Reply June 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Stacey, this is an absolutely beautiful post about Shabbat.

    Your writing is superb and descriptive. I look forward to reading more of your work in the months, years to come.

    My family tries every week to mark Shabbat in some way. It’s always a bit of a struggle, but we manage for at least a moment to breathe.

    Linda

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