Monday, March 15, 2010

Windpocalypse #2: An Unexpected Sabbath

Just last Shabbat, as the winds were howling outside the sanctuary, we discussed what Shabbat could mean for people today. We looked at new and perhaps unorthodox ways people are bringing a form of Sabbath into their lives and how necessary it is. It's both timeless and timely, as culture critic Judith Shulevitz has just come out with a book on the topic, based on her prior New York Times Magazine essay.

She writes:

What was Creation's climactic culmination? The act of stopping. Why should God have considered it so important to stop? Rabbi Elijah of Vilna put it this way: God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only once we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so. The implication is clear. We could let the world wind us up and set us to marching, like mechanical dolls that go and go until they fall over, because they don't have a mechanism that allows them to pause. But that would make us less than human. We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.

The book is called "The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time". You can read an excerpt here. See the Forward article.

I talked about how important it is to find a Sabbath - any kind of Sabbath that works - even if it is not completely consistent with tradition. As long as it is internally consistent. In other words, as Shulevitz writes, even if your Sabbath is not "religious" (halachic), do whatever you do religiously. So if you Skype family, do it on Shabbat. If you choose one day to go to a museum or listen to quiet music and avoid e-mail, make it Shabbat. If, as they did in the 1973 oil crisis, you choose to go one day without driving for environmental and conservationist purposes, make that day Shabbat.

I mentioned that my son Dan would not be taking his SATs this past Shabbat, not only because it is in accordance with Shabbat restrictions, but also as a statement of unity with the Jewish people everywhere. Even for those who do not observe Shabbat normally, I stated, it is a very positive way of affirming Jewish identity - and kids invariably get better scores.

Then Stormpocalypse hit. The hurricane force winds and driving rain did not impact those who took the SATs on Saturday. But Dan and the other Sunday takers had to bear the frustration of a cancelled test date. So much for positive impacts. But maybe in the long run it will pay off.

Meanwhile, massive power outages have forced many in this community to rediscover a personal Shabbat. One congregant, David Wolff, who had heard me speak this past Shabbat, wrote to me on Sunday:

As if on cue, Shabbat came early; or again; or simply extended. Either way, for those of us not fully observant, over the last 24 hours we have gotten a chance to experience a more traditional Shabbat (even if it was Sunday) - no phones, no electricity, no TV; rather, family games, discussions, candle-lit dinners.

And the one bend for convenience, our blackberrys, actually allowed us to alert and be aware that family and friends are all OK, providing a measure of relaxation and comfort.

Neighborhood a mess, but no one injured, and during a morning walk/survey, we got to say "hi" to people only hundreds of yards away that we haven't seen in months...

Not a bad "shabbat"!

Not a bad Shabbat at all!

As Shulevitz writes:

The old-time Sabbath does not fit comfortably into our lives. It scowls at our dewy dreams of total relaxation and freedom from obligation. The goal of the Sabbath may be rest, but it isn’t personal liberty or unfettered leisure. The Sabbath seems designed to make life as inconvenient as possible. Our schedules are not the only thing the Sabbath would disrupt if it could. It would also rip a hole in all the shimmering webs that give modern life its pleasing aura of weightlessness—the networks that zap digitized voices and money and data from server to iPhone to GPS. In a world of brightness and portability and instantaneous intimacy, the Sabbath foists on the consciousness the blackness of night, the heaviness of objects, the miles that keep us apart. The Sabbath prefers natural to artificial light. If we want to travel, it would make us walk, though not too far. If we long for social interaction, it would have us meet our fellow man and woman face-to-face. If we wish to bend the world to our will, it would insist that we forgo the vast majority of the devices that extend our reach and multiply our efficacy. We would be deprived of money and, to a certain degree, of the labor of others. We would be allowed to use our hands and a few utensils, and then only for a limited repertoire of activities. There is something gorgeously naïve about the Sabbath. To forbid people their tools and machines and commercial transactions, to reduce their social contacts to those who live no more than a village’s distance away—it seems a child’s idea, really, of life before civilization.

For those who are going through similar, Shabbat-like experiences, I'd love to hear about them! Share them with me directly or by adding a comment to this blog entry.

It turns out that this coming weekend has been declared a "National Day of Unplugging." See the New York Times article, "And on the Sabbath, the iPhones Shall Rest" also the website of the sponsoring organization, Reboot and their Sabbath Manifesto.

"Shabbat" Shalom!

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