Shabbat comes from the Hebrew verb for pausing, ceasing. In Exodus 20:8-11 the reason given for the Sabbath is to recall creation. In Deuteronomy 5:12-15 it is to free us from slavery. Jewish tradition teaches us that these two seemingly separate meaning are in fact one.
In her book "The Overworked American," Judith Schor informs us that in the past two decades Americans have added 164 hours (an entire month) to their work year. Arlie Russell Horschild contends in his best-selling book, "The Time Bind," that a profound reversal in our social psyche has taken place where both men and women favor the workplace over home. And certainly the consumer-driven market has responded. Food is quick to prepare, the Internet is faster and faster, and even Hallmark and other greeting card companies have responded by making cards to leave for the kids of your spouse that tell them in a beautifully colored and lyrical way why you cannot tuck them in, attend an important event in their life or any number of other related activities that are disrupted because we have to work.
When Joseph Lieberman was the vice-presidential candidate, pundits wondered, "What will he do if there is a crisis on the Sabbath which he says he must observe?" Laws governing the Sabbath cover the issue of crisis, so that was not a problem. Work is not the culprit. Judaism does not condemn work. Exodus 20:9-10 tells us, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord." Judaism pleads that we maintain some degree of independence from the store, the office, the rising and falling of the stock market, the culture of commerce and the adulation of commodities. Six days of work do not stand in opposition to the seventh. They are tied together. The Sabbath challenges us to break our addiction to work. Shabbat is a cry for sanity, for freedom from the omnivorous monster that robs us of our friends and our family and of the gentleness within us. Judaism asks for equilibrium. The Sabbath is a solemn declaration of a truce, an armistice for the sake of our liberation. On Shabbat we begin to take back control of our lives.
The simple act of lighting the Shabbat candles and saying the ancient blessings brings a sense of peace and contentment. The feeling of serenity seeps in and there is a palpable change in the air. The week is over. It is history. We can reflect on it and learn from it, but we cannot change it. The week ahead is new. It holds the potential for great events and renewed spirits. But for this brief period of Shabbat we do not have to worry about either.
This Shabbat, Jews all over the world will light candles and settle in with their families to renew their spirits and remember the important things in life. In Juneau we will add all of Juneau's graduates to our prayers and send a well deserved Mazel Tov to Lindsey, Adam, Eden, Julia, Tanner, Hanna, Abe, Sara, Shalom, Max, Lia, Becca and Chris. Baruch she-amar ve-haya ha-alom. Praised be the One through whose word all things came to be. May our words find expression in holy action. May they raise us up to a life of meaning devoted to God's service and to the redemption of our world. May peace be with you on the Sabbath and all the days that follow. Shalom.
Chava Lee chairs the Juneau Jewish Community Board of Directors.
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