Posts Tagged 'Sabbath'

The Present of Presence: Coming Together for Shabbat

In Vayekel, this week’s Torah portion,we read that Moshe  assembles the people of Israel and tells them the details of what is needed to build the tabernacle. The rest of the portion discusses all of the giving and the artisans who set out to build the tabernacle. But before Moshe talks about the tabernacle he reiterates the commandment to observe the Shabbat. There we read:

And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said to them: ‘These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whosoever does any work therein shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.’  ( Exodus 35:1-3)

In the Gemara in Shabbat this juxtaposition of the laws of Shabbat and the tabernacle is the root of 39 types of work used in making the tabernacle are categories of prohibited behavior on Shabbat. On another level , what is the connection between building the tabernacle, Shabbat, and assembling people?

In thinking about this question I recall one of favorite camp Shabbat stories.

As the story goes, there was an old age home by Machaneh Yehudah, the famous outdoor Shuk (market) in Jerusalem. In this facility there was one specific ward for bedridden men. In this room there was Dr. Davidoff the retired editor of a local Newspaper, Mr. Goldstein a retired music producer, Mr. Cohen who used to work in Machaneh Yehudah as street sweeper, Dr. Schaffzin who had been the doctor in a teaching hospital, Mr. Schwartz who was a well-regarded tailor in his day and Rabbi Weiss an extremely old local Rabbi. All of the men were old, incapacitated and had no visitors. Their loving wives had passed and their children lived far away. They were isolated and had only each other.

In their room, they had only one window and the way the beds were configured, there was only one bed that could see out of this window. In this bed was the revered Rabbi Weiss. Every day the good Rabbi would regale his roommates with stories of what he saw from his bed. As much as he loved to tell them of the weather and all of the comings and goings of the outside world, they would love to listen. And as much as they enjoyed his daily updates, they all longed for Friday. Every Friday Rabbi Weiss would tell them about the children running to get Marzipan, the couples buying their Challah, the busy Hummus Guy making special Shabbat deals, the people buying different seasonal Fresh fruit, husbands getting bottles of grape juice, wives getting chicken, and grandparents getting special candy for Shabbat. All of the men were so excited by the rabbi’s description of Shabbat preparation that they hardly noticed the fact that he basically had nothing to say on Saturday itself, due to the shuk being closed for Shabbat.

Sadly as most old people do, Rabbi Weiss passed away on a Saturday night.  On the following Sunday the group mourned the loss of their friend and rabbi. But by nightfall they had already started to discuss who was going to get his coveted bed. A debate ensued and each person made their argument for why they should get the bed with the view of the Shuk. Mr. Davidoff said, I was the editor of the local Newspaper and I know how to tell stories, I should get the bed. He was followed by Mr. Goldstein who had a successful career in music production. He argued that he knew how to compose beautiful moments, he should get the bed. In response, Mr. Cohen said, “ I used to work in Machaneh Yehuda as street sweeper and I know all the ins and outs of what happens on Friday, I should get the bed.”  As a matter of fact, Dr. Schaffzin made his claim for the bed. The doctor said, “I should have the bed because I spent my career teaching people how to see the intricacies of the human body, surely I can handle the shuk.” And finally Mr. Schwartz said, “ Others might know the Shuk better than me but their vision is limited. While I cannot walk or sow anymore I still can see as clear as on my Bar Mitzvah day, I should get the bed.”

After each person got through saying why he should be the one, they decided that it would only made sense to vote and Mr. Schwartz, the local tailor, won the bed with the coveted view. With the help of the staff Mr. Schwartz moved into Rabbi Weiss’s bed on Monday. After all of the debates the other men assumed that he would start telling stories right away, but on his first day in the new bed Mr. Schwartz was silent. Just like Monday, on Tuesday he stayed quiet, simply staring out the window. No one said anything as they assumed that like themselves, Mr. Schwartz was still mourning the death of Rabbi Weiss.  When he was still quiet on Wednesday the other men started to get grumpy and finally on Thursday they started yelling at Mr. Schwartz. Do your job! Why did you want the bed so much? Let me have the bed if you will not talk! And then it happened. On Friday, Mr. Schwartz started to talk. And just like the rabbi before him, he reported on children running to get Marzipan, the couples buying their Challah, the busy Hummus Guy making special Shabbat deals, the people buying different seasonal fresh fruit, husbands getting bottles of grape juice, wives getting chicken, and grandparents getting special candy for Shabbat. But seeing that his vision was so much better then Rabbi Weiss, he shared even more details. The men were thrilled with their choice of Mr. Schwartz. And Mr. Schwartz, for his part, was satisfied and confident in his fulfilling the duty he inherited from his dear rabbi. None of Mr. Schwatz’s roommates, he was now sure, would ever find out that this coveted bed did not actually overlook Machaneh Yehudah but only a brick wall.

With the passing of Rabbi Weiss, Mr. Schwartz was charged with making Shabbat for his friends. I realize for most people it is not so black and white, but what would it mean to feel an obligation to make the Sabbath holy for yourself and others? Untethered by the virtual “connections” of social media Shabbat in the 21st Century is a unique present of  presence. There is no meaning like the meaning we make for each other when we come together.

– Thank you Simmy Cohen for the help and inspiration.


Shabbat of Shabbats: Yom Kippur and Camp

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of reading a very touching piece by Dr. Oliver Sacks z”l in the New York Times. In the piece, the world-renowned neurologist reflects on his youth growing up in a traditional Jewish house and having Shabbat with his family. He shares the heart-wrenching story of his leaving that world. Through a turn of events before the end of his life, he revisits Shabbat with family. About this rediscovery he writes:

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived? (Sabbath- NYT August 14, 2015)

This depiction of the Sabbath brought me back to camp. Camp was really the first place that I truly connected to “a stopped world”.

Is there anything better than Shabbat at camp? What is there not to love? It is amazing, you get all cleaned up, get on your nicest clothes, partake in better food, have some less structured time with people you love in a place filled with beauty and memories. It is the gold standard of food, folks, and fun. I often hear from people, “I do not keep Shabbat at home, but for me Camp is the Shabbat of my year.” On one level, this is so beautiful. This sentiment expresses their love of camp and Shabbat. They have found holiness in their lives in these amazing immersive experiences. On another level, it makes me sad. Do Shabbat and camp need to be all or nothing? These peak experiences at camp two months a year might preempt other amazing experiences 10 months a year, or worse for years in their lives when they can no longer come to camp.

I pause to reflect on Shabbat in preparation for Yom Kippur a day described as “Shabbat Shabbaton” (Leviticus 16:31, 23:32). On a simple level, it means a day of complete cessation of work, but on a deeper level is a day to reboot our system. Yom Kippur is a day in which we spend time reflecting on how we can repair what is broken and return to a better version of ourselves. For me, that means going back to camp.  It is a day we can give ourselves permission to take the best part of camp and Shabbat and bring them into our lives. What would it mean to take time every Shabbat to grab some unstructured time within a beautiful place and eat some yummy food with people you love? Yom Kippur asks us not to let perfection get in the way of success. We do not need to wait until the end of our lives to “wonder what if“.

Gmar Chatima Tova and Shabbat Shalom

Making Shabbat

In BeShalach,this week’s Torah portion, we read about the Israelites’ preparation for the first Shabbat in the desert. There we read:

22 And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. 23 And he said to them: ‘This is that which the Lord has spoken: Tomorrow is a solemn rest, a holy Shabbat to the Lord. Bake that which you will bake, and see that which you will see; and all that remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.’ 24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses asked; and it did not rot, neither was there any worm therein. 25 And Moses said: ‘Eat that today; for today is a Shabbat to the Lord; today you shall not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day is the Shabbat, in it there shall be none.’ 27 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that there went out some of the people to gather, and they found none. ( Exodus 16: 22-27)

Usually the Manna from one day would be rotten the next, but here on Shabbat it kept from Friday to Saturday. What do we learn from this miracle inside a miracle? God made the manna, why is it a big deal that God made special Manna on Friday with preservatives?

Recently I got a e-mail from a dear college friend who shared with me the recent conversation she had with her child who is about to turn four years old.

Child: Is Israel the most beautiful part of the country?
Parent: Which country?
Child: This country.
Parent: Israel is its own country. It’s a different country in the world.
Child: Is it the most beautiful country in the world?
Parent: It is a beautiful country but there is no one most beautiful country. Lots of countries are beautiful and Israel is one of them.
Child: Does the sun shine on the holy temple and make it shine?
Parent: Where did you learn about the Holy Temple?
Child: I don’t know. I just know about it in my mind. Does the sun shine on it?
Parent: Yes.  The stones are white so when it is sunny, it looks like it is shining.
Child: Is the Holy Temple where Israel makes Shabbat?
Parent: What do you mean, “make Shabbat”?
Child: Is the holy temple where people in Israel make their Shabbat?
Parent: Well, everyone can make Shabbat wherever they live, just like we make it at our house with the Shabbat family you invite each week.
Child: Well, where is Shabbat made in our country?
Parent: Well, Shabbat doesn’t come from a factory. It’s something each family can make on their own each week.
Child: Well, where does it come from?
Parent: (growing desperate) Well, it’s like a present from God.
Child: I know!  God lives really high up.  On top of space.  He sends the astronauts to earth with Shabbat and its a gift from God.  He gives Shabbat to us and Christmas to Christians, but they don’t get Shabbat and we don’t get Christmas.
Parent: That’s right. Each religion has its own special presents and fun times.
Child: The Shabbat family are angels from God. They bring Shabbat to us each week and they live with us and I bring them into the house.  They love coming to our house.
Parent: That’s a nice way of thinking about it.
Child: Where is the guitar for Rock star Elmo?  My sister wants to know for Elmo’s band.
I love this story for many reasons. I often think about how much harder things can get for us as we grow older. When we are young it might have been easier to maintain a simple,but not simplistic notion of holiness. Diversity is just a given.  God is just sharing different gifts with different people. And we see how this can be a model for a child who himself wants to make sure his sibling gets her toy. And of course there is a part of this story that is relevant to our question. Shabbat is beautifully a tangible thing.  Like God made Manna, the people make Shabbat. What does it take to make Shabbat today? Does it mean having to work harder during the week to be able to take off 25 hours? But if we do, we have a Shabbat Family.  So maybe Shabbat is just a story we tell our children. And that would make a Shabbat Family a story in a story that our children tell us. Or maybe that is a miracle in a miracle.  Shabbat  is a lot of work. But, who knows? Maybe making Shabbat preserves us all week.
Shabbat Shalom

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