Posts Tagged 'Shabbat'

Shabbat in Person: Present of Presence

In Vayekel Pikkudei, 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?

We also learn in the Talmud:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees his friend after thirty days have passed since last seeing him recites: Blessed…Who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time. One who sees his friend after twelve months recites: Blessed…Who revives the dead. (Berakhot 58b)

In that the absence of a friend is tantamount to their death there is a clear value of connecting with people in person. In many ways Tabernacle was a place for us to connect “in person” with God. Likewise Shabbat is a chance for us to be in God’s presence.  That might be too hard to really connect with for most of us, so at least Shabbat should be a time for us to connect face to face with each other. In an era in which most of our relationships are filtered though electronic screens Shabbat is a real present of presence.

-Similar message in Technology Shabbat by Tiffany Shlain

 

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Of Herders, Gardeners, and Builders: The Gift of Shabbat

A few weeks ago in Parshat Vayeshev we read of Yosef’s dreams in which he dreams about how his family’s stars and bundles of wheat bow to his. While the brothers are clearly angered by the idea of their having to bow to their little brother, is that enough to make them want to enslave or even kill their brother? Rabbi Riskin interprets that the dream of the wheat was really  Yosef’s  prediction of the transition from the nomadic shepherd way of life to the settled farmer lifestyle. It was not that their bundle of wheat needed to bow to his, it was that their lives of sheep herding needed to bow to his call for an agricultural wheat based society. In his dream Yosef was calling for a radical technological innovation. Yosef was saying that his brothers needed to put their childish things away and evolve.  They went after Yosef because he was calling for an end of life as they knew it.  And sure enough that is exactly what happened. Shift happens.

I was thinking about it this week as we start the book of Shmot. Here we read:

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Yosef. And he said to his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Yisrael are too many and too mighty for us; come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when a war befalls us, they also join themselves with our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.’ Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pitom and Raamses. ( Exodus 1:8-11)

When they were literally the children of Yisrael they were shepherds. Despite the difficulties surrounding it Yosef forces them to settle down and become wheat farmers. This is the very thing that saves them and the world from the 7 year famine. A new king takes over Egypt who does not recall the great deeds of Yosef. In his fear of the nation of Yisrael the new king enslaves them. I cannot even imagine the transition from being free to becoming a slave. It is also noteworthy they also needed to transition from being an extended family to becoming a nation. They also needed to transition from being farmers to builders. This is a lot of transition from being shepherds, to farmers, to builders.

In our Torah portion as we see the emergence of Yisrael as a nation, it is easy to wax poetic about the days of our being simple farmers in the land of Canaan. This reminds me a of a stirring quote from Paulo Coelho. He wrote:

In life, a person can take one of two attitudes: to build or to plant. The builders might take years over their tasks, but one day, they finish what they’re doing. Then they find that they’re hemmed in by their own walls. Life loses its meaning when the building stops. Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But unlike a building, a garden never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure. Gardeners always recognize each other, because they know that in the history of each plant lies the growth of the whole World. (Brida)

In the context of this quote it is easy to imagine the people of Yisrael in a double slavery. Not only were they slaves to the king of Egypt, they were slaves to being forced to give up gardening for building.

This narrative is the very context for the gift of Shabbat to a group of slaves. And today more than ever we need the gift of Shabbat. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern. (The Sabbath)

Even if we have to become builders, we cannot only be builders. We must reinvest in our lives as gardeners. Shabbat is the time during which we as the Nation of Yisrael invest in the family of Yisrael with our families. With the gift of Shabbat we ensure that we continue to grow. Shabbat Shalom.

 

Shabbat Shabbatot

It seems strange to have Yom Kippur on Shabbat. It feels like I am missing out on Shabbat this week. In so many ways it is central to my personal sanity and family’s sense of sanctity and rhythm.  My friend Zev just posted this on Facebook:

The great Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was very calm when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat and explained why it was so. It is known we are commanded as not to write on Shabbat, that it is a desecration of the holy Shabbat! Just for saving a life one is allowed to write. And therefore G-d can only write us in for a year of life as writing is only permitted for saving lives but for no other exception. We will surely be blessed and inscribed and sealed for a great year filled with all good both physically and spiritually!

Living my whole life within a structure of Jewish law is the normal of my existence. One of the most wonderful unintended consequences of raising children within a legal system is that we as parents are not the originators of all the rules of the household. They have to keep Shabbat because it is the law, not just because Abba said so. Nothing gives me more pleasure then when my children challenge me to keep these rules. There is an order bigger then any one of us in which we find out place. This means that I can be an authority, but not an authoritarian. Similarly it is an amazing idea to project the idea that G-d also has to keep the laws of Yom Kippur  and Shabbat. In so many levels this imagination brings be comfort and sense of order. May we all be blessed to have meaningful Shabbat Shabbatot.

Gmar Chatima Tova

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

Shabbat Growth Mindset

Shabbat Nachamu – the Shabbat of Comforting  takes its name from the haftarah from Isaiah ( 40:1-26) that speaks of “comforting” the Jewish people for their suffering. There we read, “Comfort you, comfort you My people, said your God.” ( Isaiah 40:1) This haftarah is the first of seven haftarot of consolation leading up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. It occurs on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. It is understood to be the start the national healing process. Like no time in recent history we really need this Nechemta- comfort.  But with such suffering now in the world how might we make that shift to comfort?

Recently I have been reading  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset. It is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets. Dr. Dweck argues that having a Growth Mindset is the secret to being successful in everything including sports, parenting, business, school, teaching, coaching, and relationships.

As a nation if we had a Fixed Mindset and we experienced the set back of Tisha B’Av or the current attacks by Hamas in Gaza we would have just given up and been done. We would not have lasted as we have throughout history. But instead, we choose a Growth Mindset. With Shabbat Nachamu we are invited to work and developing our relationships with each other, the world, and God.

I was thinking about this when listening to John Newman ‘s song, “Love Me Again”. In this song he is trying to resolve the nature of a relationship in his life. Will the object of his affection love him again? The song goes:

Now I’m rising from the ground
Rising up to you
Filled with all the strength I found
There’s nothing I can’t do!

I think it is worth listening too.

If we have a Growth Mindset and we are trying to answer John Newman’s question after Tisha B’Av the answer has to be that there’s nothing we can’t do. With Shabbat Nachamu is seems that God is willing to love us again. And if we work on it,  in seven weeks we will be back in God’s good graces. When it comes to how we relate to each other, our neighbors, our friends, and  even our enemies there is much to do.  I hope we will recover a Growth Mindset regarding this crisis in the Middle East. It is time to repair,  prepare, and grow. With the right Mindset there is nothing we can’t do.

 

Another blog post on Mindset

The Breaking Voice

It has been a really horrible week in Jewish camping. Early in the week three campers were struck by lightning at GUCI. Two of the three campers were released from the hospital and the third has been transferred to a hospital in his home town. And if that was not bad enough, a tree fell at Camp Towanga striking five counselors. Annais Rittenberg z”l was killed. This is so horrible, I have had trouble sleeping at night.

As I prepare for Shabbat I pause to think about this weekly commemoration of the genesis of the world. It is hard to praise the Creator of a world that can cause such pain, damage, and chaos. While usually it is easy to relate to the wonder of creation, it is hard to deal with the destructive forces of lighting and falling trees.

Later today we will say Kabalat Shabbat and in it we will read:

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to God’s name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, even the Lord upon many waters.  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; yea, the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. (Psalms 29 : 2-5)

Why would this destructive God be deserving of our praise? What glory is due? Is there beauty in this destructive force? If God’s voice is so loud, what is the place of my voice?

Later in Kabalat Shabat we read:

The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our God.”( Psalms 92: 13-14)

How do we reconcile a God that destroys the very trees that are our righteous?

Earlier in the same Psalm we read:

A Psalm, a Song. For the Shabbat day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High. To declare Your loving kindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness in the night seasons” (Psalm 92:1-3)

How can I bring myself this Shabbat to praise God? I find myself struggling. But I can take a moment to bring praise for the wonderful counselors who are truly the righteous. They are the ones taking care of our children. They are our first respondents. They are the ones giving their gentle voices to comfort those that are frightened. In helping to create the utopia of camp, our counselors emulate the best of the Divine. This deserves our praise. May the memory of Annais Rittenberg z”l be for a blessing. Shabbat Shalom- may it bring us all peace and comfort.


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