Sunday, February 26, 2006

Why I Like Shabbos

Shabbos is an opportunity to take a break in life. We spend all week rushing along, doing this project, taking care of that errand. We have to keep in mind all the rapidly approaching deadlines for all the things we need to take care of. It's hectic! Shabbos gives us a day to separate ourselves from that busy short-term minded lifestyle. It gives us the opportunity to read a book for pleasure, to talk with good friends, to have a meal with family, to take a nap, and to just think about life and what it means in a larger sense than just when the next deadline is.

Even the morning in shul is good. Davening is typically at a much slower pace than a regular weekday service. Maybe I don't agree with the literal words of every prayer, but in the inherent meanings of many of them is easy to find resonance. Peace, brotherhood, justice and prosperity are common themes. And even lauding Creation and using an abstract personification for Existence can be deeply moving as well. Honestly, I feel most at peace and spiritual (if you could call it that) during the Kedusha of Musaf. The whole thing must be taken metaphorically, of course. Even among true blue believers I don't think they would take it literally. I take it as an ecstatic expression of awe at all of Existence along with the hope that there's more to it than merely how it appears. But even without any meaning, the way the words fit together along with the superb tunes make it an amazing experience.

The reading of the Torah gives me an opportunity to study a small piece of an excellent work. Most people just don't have the time or the inclination to take out a chumash and start reading. Shabbos gives us a set time each week to open one up and look through a prepared section. The Torah has deep historical and cultural significance to Judaism. It is also valuable as an ethical work even though its precise moral commands can sometimes be distasteful to the modern ear. Despite that, however, there is an underlying theme where the morality is based on fairness and justice and it is the spirit of the laws that are meaningfully directive. There are also a number of true gems. As we just read this past Shabbos, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." Where can you find such an excellent and far-ranging ethic phrased any more eloquently?

Taking a day out of your regular schedule and cutting off all the regular distractions like television or computers gives one an opportunity to think. To think about life, to think about Judaism, to think about the universe, to even think about God, if one is so inclined and however you understand the term. To think about history, to think about the future, to think about ethics, to think about the world at large and to think about your goals and what you find meaningful in life.

Now this kind of weekly time-out is more important than any transient deadline or little project. Granted, it can be inconvenient some weeks, but if you make it a merely optional activity then it will lose its feeling of importance and it will lose much of its significance. That is inevitable. Life can too easily find itself being wrapped up in all sorts of pointless details if we don't take the time to give daily life a rest and to consider the bigger pictures.

17 comments:

Jewish Atheist said...

Sometimes I miss shabbos. Saturday is still different than the other days, but it isn't quite the same as it used to be.

On the other hand, I really enjoy not having to go to shul anymore.

Orthoprax said...

Different how? How is it different from Sunday?

Jewish Atheist said...

Well, my girlfriend's a little religious, so she takes Saturday off from studying and stuff. And we don't do many errands on Saturday.

B. Spinoza said...

Ortho,

you want to go through all the halachos and tell us why they have meaning to you?

Orthoprax said...

Spinoza,

I don't know if I could do that. For one it would be a significant amount of work, and secondly, it's not so much the specific laws, but the whole feeling which the laws give to the day. I'm sure that wouldn't change much if a couple of laws were made lenient and so on. But I do see practical value in keeping people from traveling, from carrying stuff, money, etc, in dressing nicely, etc. It all works to give the day a non-regular (holy?) feeling.

B. Spinoza said...

I didn't mean all the laws of shabbos, I meant the other Jewish symbols such as tefillin, mezuzah, kosher etc.

Orthoprax said...

Spinoza,

That kind of thing is on my list. I'll get around to it sooner or later. Though I find some symbols to be much more compelling than others.

B. Spinoza said...

>Granted, it can be inconvenient some weeks, but if you make it a merely optional activity then it will lose its feeling of importance and it will lose much of its significance.

But the fact is that it is voluntary. Are you trying to fool yourself? I'm not sure what you mean by not making it optional. unless you mean by making it a personal vow to keep it on yourself

Also, if you want to remain in the community it is not really optional. You have no choice but to keep it. Of course you can always violate it in private, but if you want to go out in public you have to walk the walk.

So privately it is optional unless you make a private vow. And publicly, it is not optional if you want to remain within the community

Orthoprax said...

Spinoza,

I meant it in the sense of a personal vow. If it's something you make yourself do every week, it becomes more important than something you try to do, but aren't really bothered if you miss a week or three.

Mis-nagid said...

"As we just read this past Shabbos, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." Where can you find such an excellent and far-ranging ethic phrased any more eloquently?"

I really liked "וְשֹׁחַד לֹא תִקָּח כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר פִּקְחִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים" Beautiful. Gorgeous. Poetic. The author of the verse could have stopped after word three, but the full posuk simply glows.

The Jewish Freak said...

Good post. I like it all but the shul part.

Mis-nagid said...

"It all works to give the day a non-regular (holy?) feeling."

You tripped over an important point there. Kodesh does not mean holy. It has a root meaning of separate or "otherness". Your "non-regular" is a much better translation of what the Torah's authors meant by kodesh hi lochem than holy.

Orthoprax said...

Mis-nagid,

"Kodesh does not mean holy. It has a root meaning of separate or "otherness"."

I learned that in elementary school. Are you sure that's not just a Rashi-ism?

Mis-nagid said...

"I learned that in elementary school. Are you sure that's not just a Rashi-ism?"

OUCH! ;-)

Yeah, I'm sure.

Mis-nagid said...

But isn't it sad that we can't trust a single f*cking thing we were taught, not even the teitch of an important word?

aj said...

Are you sure that's not just a Rashi-ism?

Or you could say that Rashi was explaining, not translating. Kodesh clearly means holy, but Rashi was explaining what Kodesh means in the context of Leviticus 19:2 (or wherever) and how to become holy...he (and many others) say seperating.

So we can trust Rashi, as long as we remember what he really meant

e-kvetcher said...

You guys got me confused.

My understanding is that Kodesh means separate, but really meaning separate from the rest of your stuff since it is dedicated to the service or provenance, or sphere of a deity.

Which is what I always understood the word "holy" to mean as well.

So what's the point of your argument?