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  • Writer's pictureRuth Schapira

Shabbat is an Island Escape

Every week, I get to imagine the world as it should be. As Friday night approaches, I look forward to the total disconnect I will have from the real world during the next 25 hours: no news (absolutely none), no bothersome notifications, no task-list cross-offs.

Just time to 'be'.

I crave my weekly escape but it wasn't always that way. I did not grow up Shabbat observant, and frankly, way back when, I used to think of this weekly break as a restrictive ancient ritual that just didn't apply to me. The list of 'do nots' went against my independent, modern sensibilities. Why shouldn't I do what I feel like? Why should I be limited? There's so much to do, so much to see, so much to discover....

During these times of Covid, when many say that days are like drippy watercolors, blending into each other, it is less so for me. In fact, for the past year, I've appreciated the special Shabbat sweetness even more since it is my island of time in a sea of sameness.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi says that "The prohibitions of Shabbos jump out at us at first because anyone can understand a prohibition, whether they fulfill it or not. Modern Jews are inclined to resent such restrictions....the more we can get into the spirit of these laws, the more we can begin to grasp the benefits that Shabbos can bestow. [A] traditional Shabbos is not a day to do; it is a day to be....we are free to pamper our souls."

Schachter-Shalomi uses this metaphor in Jewish with Feeling: a Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice:

"Imagine your spouse or partner rushes in and says, "Honey, listen, I got us tickets for an island vacation! It's a package deal. You pay up front: once we get there, everything is free. You're not going to believe this place. It has no commercial establishments whatsoever. There's nowhere to spend money! They don't allow any cars or mechanized vehicles on the island, everything is literally within walking distance. They ask guests not to bring cell phones, computers, TVs, or radios. We won't have to do any cooking: the meals are supposed to be great. 'So what do people do? I asked the travel agent. 'Won't we go a little crazy, with so little stimulation?' She said, no, not at all, that people tend to get acclimated very's just total downtime, total rejuvenation."

Just Be-ing is just one way that we can imitate our Creator ("B'tzelem Elohim").

Moses has an encounter with God at the Burning Bush and is working through how he will possibly convey God's message to the Jewish people. He asks "who shall I tell them sent me?" God responds "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh". Ehyeh is a form of the verb 'to be' but in Hebrew there is no word for present tense of "to be" so the Name is usually translated as "I will be what I will be" or "I am, I was, I will be" or "I am who I am", ---all verb forms, a state of Be-ing.

On Shabbat, we too, can just be.


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