Shalom Rav here
Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest… These are the set times of AD!NAI, the sacred occasions, which you shall celebrate each at its appointed time.” (Leviticus 23:3-4)
My father-in-law, James Rapport, of blessed memory, was a beloved professor of Shakespeare. Before that, however, he started out with a brief stint as a borscht belt comedian. He taught me one of his favorite jokes that we would do together. I would ask: “What’s the most important thing in comedy?” But before I could quite finish the question, he would interrupt saying, “Timing!!”
Well timing is not only the key to comedy, it is the key to life, as well. In this week’s Torah portion, in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus, we are taught about the key to holding our celebrations, our festivals and pilgrimage holidays, and the holy Sabbath day, to have them in their appointed, set times.
Just as Chanukah comes in the darkest days and longest nights of the year, and Pesach must come in the Spring when all life is showing its renewal and reawakening, there is, as Kohelet-called Ecclesiastes-said, “A time for everything and a season for every purpose under heaven.” Our connection to the cycles of the year and of nature may seem to have diminished in the modern, technological age, but we are still creatures of habit and the regularly appointed times and seasons do still resonate for us. Or they did….
How many of us lately, sheltering in place, have repeatedly asked the question, “What day is it?” One of my favorite late night TV hosts, Trevor Noah, and his team decided weeks ago that in our current coronavirus circumstances every day is Turdsday!
After two months of quarantine and isolation, we may feel that there is no longer any sense of rhythm to our lives. We are, even the introverts among us, social creatures at heart. And not only do we need other people, we depend on the routine of the calendar to provide stability and order in an otherwise tumultuous and shaky existence.
This year, when our Pesach seders had to be held online (and our Christian and Muslim friends had to observe Easter and Ramadan ‘virtually’), we may be feeling unmoored from the usual grounding reality of weekly, monthly, and annual routines. This year, as all social and seasonal norms have been, well, anything but normal, we may be feeling particularly lost and adrift.
But when we turn to our Jewish roots and traditions, we realize that one constant has always been there to provide us with the anchor and stability life needs-and now more than ever. Shabbat. I may not know what day of the week it is on any other given day of this seemingly interminable quarantine, but I always know when it’s Shabbat!
It can be easy to lose all sense of time during this COVID-19 pandemic. But once again, Jewish tradition has an antidote for that. It’s called Shabbat. When life feels like an ongoing episode of The Twilight Zone or we experience every day like in the movie Groundhog Day because each day is an exact duplicate of the previous one, along comes Shabbat to throw us a lifeline. Literally. To take us out of the blur of seemingless endless days on end without focus, rhyme, or rhythm, Shabbat is a blessing that calls to us and to our souls.
Next time I’ll write about some meaningful ways to observe Shabbat and truly make it a holy day. For now I’ll simply suggest that if you don’t already have the tradition to light Shabbos candles at home, this is the perfect time to start. To quote the famous author Achad HaAm (1856-1927): “More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Shabbat has kept Israel.”
Time and again, through all kinds of hardships, the Sabbath has kept Israel. Now, at a time when we cannot control much of what is happening around us, our sacred traditions can guide us to at least control the way we respond to what we cannot control. Let us invite Shabbat to “keep us” and to use this time as an opportunity to return to an ancient routine which allows our holy times to provide stability and grounding.
Let us be aware of the passing of time, the flow of days, and the pause given in each week which calls us to reflect on higher values. I am fond of reminding people that we are human Beings, not human Doings. In the pre-pandemic days, we too often were consumed with doing and making, earning and accomplishing. We were too busy too often to stop and breathe, and pray, to give thanks and be aware of this incredible world. Shabbat is a time for healing of the soul and allowing G!D to be Present in our lives. With this new change of pace, we have the chance to slow down and just be. Who knows what we might find…
Gaylia R. Rooks, Rabbi Emerita