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The Storm Offered Us Sabbath

On Monday night, as news reports told us to prepare for a historic, crippling storm, the people around me didn't seem as if they were anticipating the apocalypse.

People were making sure they had working flashlights and bottled water, always good things to do, but there was more. One friend needed to take an emergency Oreo run before the snow came, and there were dozens of texts and emails figuring who was hosting a blizzard party when.

At one level, everyone loves a snow day, even if they are a lot more common than they once were. For most people, an occasional day off from responsibility is a delight.

The real delight, however was that not just one person had the day off -- it was that everyone had the day off. Someone could plan a last minute party because everyone was suddenly free - classes were canceled, work was canceled and it was illegal to drive anywhere. Everyone was free to hang out with their friends and neighbors. Not just any friends and neighbors - suddenly, it mattered who was physically closest, who could be reached on foot.

In essence, the storm offered us a chance to have Sabbath, and we reached for it with both hands.

Now, more than ever, we need that sense of blanketed quiet, of stillness and at some level, we need it to be externally enforced so it doesn't feel like laziness, Heaven forbid. We know we must be productive, ever improving our career, our finances, our parenting, our diet, but in reality, we - you and I - need Shabbat, as surely as our bodies need to sleep and our land needs to lie fallow.

In The Sabbath (which is as close to required reading as we get at BHA), R. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

Indeed, our souls need a Sabbath - and so does our community. We need a time when we can connect with other people for no reason other than to delight in their company and see the Divine in their face. 

In a traditional world Shabbat is the time when everyone is free, everyone can talk, everyone puts aside their mundane particulars. It is an insult to say that someone "makes Shabbas for themselves" (machen Shabbes far zich) because Shabbas, more than any other time is when we come together with others. 

I know from side conversations that more and more folks are thinking about shabbat and what it means in our time and in our context and that is a great and wonderful thing. Shabbas is a vital part of individual and communal life - our souls crave a place of stillness and of connection. This isn't about "becoming religious" or "following orders." Cultivating Shabbat is about taking our souls half as seriously as we take our minds or our bodies. 

We can do this, and now is the time. Even if it's "the last minte," even if the house is a mess, even if you are a flawed human being as you always will be, invite someone over for Shabbat. Have some challah and wine and friends and expansive room for conversation. Light a candle, chant a blessing, (instructions are here if you want them) and let your soul claim what it needs. 

The storm offered us Sabbath, and we can have Sabbath every week if we build it.

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780