Shabbat: the Cure for Our 'Affliction' - Yitro 5776/2016

Shabbat: the Cure for Our 'Affliction'© - Yitro 5776/2016
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

I received a call yesterday close to noon from a friend asking if I wanted to go to the Pearl Jam concert with him.  But guess when it was?  Friday night.  I told him I couldn’t because of Shabbat.  It was then he said to me, you know, I kind of feel bad for you.  You have this life that is so restrictive, you can’t go out to bars and spend money on Friday nights, you can’t cook on Saturday, you can’t go to concerts.  You waste a whole day at home when you could be out doing things!  You miss out on so much!  How do you live this?  And I know, some of you might be thinking the same thing about me. 

And then, there’s another story, a conversation I had with a younger family member, a young person in their 20’s.  This family member confessed that she can’t sit and do just one thing anymore.  I am so tied to my phone, the internet and constant communication that I can’t focus on anything.  So I gave her an idea – one day a week, the best day would be Saturday because it is the weekend after all, just leave your phone at home and don’t use it, or the internet.  Try it, and you will see how your life will change. 

“Wow, that’s an amazing idea!”  How did you come up with it? 

And I thought to myself to my loved one, how could you live like this?  With no rest, no boundaries in your life? 

So today, I want to talk about why Shabbat is important for our people, and for humanity; and what Shabbat is really all about. 

In this week’s parashah, we see the famous 10 Commandments or 10 Utterances; the 10 big ideas that govern a society.  We learn about the importance of one God, not making false oaths, Honoring your parents, the prohibitions against murder, adultery, robbery, false witnessing, and coveting, and along with these commandments, we see a command to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, one day a week.  We can make an argument that when these nine other ideas are the framework for a moral and just society – so where does Shabbat fit in?  Why is Shabbat so important?

Because it has kept us who we are – as Ahad Ha’am, the founder of cultural Zionism, and a secularist said, “More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews."  But I think it’s actually more than this. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously wrote in his book the Sabbath:  “Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space.  It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time.  In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space.  To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective.  Yet to have more does not mean to be more.  The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time.  But time is the heart of existence. 

The realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.  Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes more sole concern.  Selling himself into slavery to things, man becomes a utensil that is broken at the fountain.”

He goes on to say that human is constantly trying to subdue and manage the forces of nature.  He was right, and he still is right.  I wonder what he think if he were alive today, if he heard the conversation I was having with my friend and my family member.  It seems that today, maybe more so than ever before, we think that time is the final frontier to conquer and subdue.  We think we can subdue time with technology, to make things faster and more efficient.  But are we more relaxed now than we were 20 years ago?  We have more, but are we more? 

And Shabbat is the antidote to this control over time that we think we have. 

In the last couple of years, an online project started to help out people like the family member who felt that her life was so out of control.  It’s called the Sabbath Manifesto, a project by Reboot which affirms the value of Jewish traditions and creates new ways for people to make them their own.  The Sabbath Manifesto is a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.

Here are the 10 rules for the Sabbath Manifesto:
1.    Avoid technology
2.    Connect with loved ones
3.    Nurture your health
4.    Get outside
5.    Avoid commerce
6.    Light candles
7.    Drink wine
8.    Eat bread
9.    Find silence
10.    Give back

There are no explanations for how to do these things, but there is a comment section.  In the comment section, Leslie wrote: “I recently had a guy fix my laptop. He (Joe) has a small PC fix-it business near my town in Western Massachusetts. Joe is from Ghana. I was asking him about life there. He said, "People are connected to each other there. Here, people are connected to machines."’

Zachor et Yom HaShabbat L’Kodsho – Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 
In this commandment, we invoke God creating the world. 

Rabbi Ethan Tucker recently wrote:

“According to this version of the Ten Commandments, Zachor et Yom HaShabbat, or remember, Shabbat is an act of imitating God's behavior on the seventh day of creation. It does not emerge from Jewish, or even human, history; it predates it. Shabbat is an opportunity for human beings to be like God and to frame their relationship to the physical world of creation in which they live.  By imitating God's stopping and resting, we also acknowledge that we did not create the world, and, therefore, do not have the right to dominate it without limits. Creation is from God; it is perhaps, at least in part, for humans, but it is not simply the plaything of humans to do with what they will. Shabbat reminds us of our place in the divine world that graciously contains us.”

Can you imagine if you actually talked to people with your breath instead of through text?  Shabbat is a time when we communicate feeling the breath of our fellow human being.  Shabbat is very much connected to the creation story – God creates the world with words, but words can be typed or written; but the special name that God has with the Jewish people is YHVH – which, if said, sounds like a breath.  When we talk to the people around us, feeling their breath, and we recognize that they are created in the image of God, we start appreciating them, and ourselves. 

Our conversation becomes elevated, we tend to talk about the things that truly matter.

Creativity comes from letting things lie fallow – studies show that when you are in a creative rut, we have to take walks or go on long drives without music and let our minds go.  We cannot be distracted by music or emails, or texts – without ceasing our work, we hold ourselves back from future creation! 

On Shabbat, we allow ourselves to bask on the work we’ve done.  We don’t worry about creating more and more, because what use is there to create more if you cannot appreciate what you’ve already created? 

The Romans used to look down upon Jews because of Shabbat.  They called us lazy – who stops work once a week? 

But we are still here, and where are the Romans?  

“More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews."  Perhaps Shabbat was given to us not just to keep us alive, but for this very moment in time – as a gift to the entire world. 

I know there are people in this room who keep Shabbat, and I know there are many who don’t.  But, if you can, I humbly ask that you think of one thing, and you have over a month to prepare:  March 6 – 7, which happens to be a Friday and Saturday, is a national day of unplugging through the Sabbath Manifesto.  Go on the site, and think about how free you can be if you just let go of the control you think you have. 

May we all taste rest on this Shabbat and every Shabbat to come, may our lives slow down, may we let ourselves stop creating one day a week, so we can be more creative the other six days.  Amen. 


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