Posts Tagged 'Shabbat'



Dependable Memory

In the Mishnah Tamid ( 7:4) we learn that the Messianic Era will be a time which is  sheKulu Shabbat- completely Shabbat. What does that mean? First we need to understand some basic ideas about Shabbat and the Messiah. So, Shabbat with all of the rules and regulations actually boils down to just two commandments, LeShmor V LeZchor- to guard and to remember. Most of what we know  is all of the things we cannot do on Shabbat. That would fall under the commandment “to guard” Shabbat. We remember the Shabbat most clearly with the Kiddush. The Shulchan Aruch (OH272) brings down an interesting idea. If we do not have enough money for Challah and wine we should actually make Kiddush over Challah.  But we will come back to this.

Now back to the idea of the Messiah. We often say that one should ignore the idea of the Messiah ben David, but we ignore the idea of the Messiah ben Yosef. Living most of history as a dispossessed people we overlook the physical redemption of the Messiah descended from Yosef in favor of the metaphysical/ spiritual redemption that is supposed to come from a descendent of David. This idea of a physical redeemer in Yosef is very clearly discussed in the past few Torah portions. It all comes to a head in Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion, when the hidden redeemer reveals his true identity to save his brothers.

Regardless of our station in life, on Shabbat we are transformed into kings presiding over our weekly feast. To anyone who keeps Shabbat in our lives, it is hard to imagine a world without Shabbat.  But if we tried to imagine a world without the comfort of family and community we do not need to look further then when Yosef himself was in prison. There he was in the pit without Shabbat, but he was with the head baker and the head butler of the Pharaoh. He interprets their dreams and asks to be remembered. Then we read:

And the butler did not remember Yosef and he forgot him. ( Genesis 41:23)

Yosef asks to be remembered and he is forgotten.  Many commentators suggest that this doubling of language suggests that the butler forgot him in the short-term and the long-term. It is easy to imagine why the butler might forget Yosef. Many of us assume that needing the help of others makes us weaker in some way. So in the short and long-term it was easier for the butler to think he was chosen or special then remembering that he was dependent on Yosef for anything.

What is the significance of this story of Yosef in the prison in the context of our Mishna in Tamid? Yosef was in the pit without Shabbat. Pharoah is the king and he is clearly not. There, Yosef was with the head of Challah and the Head of Kiddush. The head of Challah was going to be killed and the head of Kiddush was asked to remember the redeemer and forgets him. Every Shabbat we try to fix this by remembering Yosef when we make Kiddush. And if we do not have money for both we remember the Challah over the Kiddush.

In the Talmud,  Rav Yochanan said in the name of the Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi:

If Israel were to keep two Shabbatot according to the laws, they would be redeemed immediately ( Shabbat 118b)

Surely if we remember what the butler forgot we could redeem the world. (Maybe for both the Messiah of Yosef and David) We all get help from people all the time. But, we let our egos get the best of us. If we took the time to reveal their good deeds it would help reveal the capacity of these hidden humble heroes to redeem the world. And, we would also reveal our own vulnerability. This itself might be the core of the Messianic Era. This will not be a time of independence or dependence, but radical interdependence.  Shabbat itself could be a taste of this. Take a moment this Shabbat to share how you were helped this week. This memory might itself bring us closer to that era.

L’Kavod Ben Sales ( who taught me to love Shabbat in new ways) and his wife Rachel

Shabbat is not in Heaven

I have many great memories of growing up at camp. For many of us camp alumni, a disproportional amount of these memories are of Shabbat. From a serene Kabbalat Shabbat by the lake, to an emotive song session in the dining hall, euphoric dancing on the basketball court, chocolate bobka at the Shabbat Oneg, resting on boys campus on Shabbat afternoon, and Havdalah that seemed to last to the middle of the night, Shabbat at camp was amazing and transcendent.

These might be my most precious of memories. As more time and distance pass from my experience of Shabbat at camp, it seems that I have not just placed these memories on a pedestal, but I have locked them in a glass cabinet. When I get together and reminisce with camp friends, I feel like a young Cosette from Les Miserables talking about Shabbat. As her song goes:

There is a room that’s full of toys
There are a hundred boys and girls
Nobody shouts or talks too loud
Not in my castle on a cloud (Les Miserables)

While I hold these memories dear, it saddens me to think of why we have limited our access to Shabbat outside of camp.  Are my options simply not appealing? Do they not feel authentic? Do I have some sort of fear of tarnishing my camp Shabbat memories? Whatever the reason, Shabbat is not supposed to be a “Castle on a Cloud”; rather it is supposed to be a “Palace in Time.” In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world. (The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man)

Shabbat at camp was special, but we do not need wooden cabins to experience the sacred architecture of Shabbat. While our memories might stem from our distant childhoods, one need not be a child—or a father or mother of one—to reconnect to Shabbat.

The work of the Foundation for Jewish Camp is important. We need to radically increase the number of our youth that are having these peak Jewish experiences. The lasting memories and relationships of Jewish camp are vital, but not sufficient. We must also find ways to empower alumni of these experiences to find ways to let these memories leak into the rest of their lives. Shabbat without the lake might not seem perfect, but it will be. We need to work on an integrated program of inspiring “peak and leak” experiences.

I am very proud that One Happy Camper, a program of FJC, is sponsoring Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging, which is coming up this Friday, March 4th – 5th. Join in, unplug camp-style, and share your new memories.

– as seen on FJC Blog 

Shabbat or Death

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayakel Pekudey we read,” And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto 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.” (Exodus 35:1-2) While the idea of the Sabbath is critical to the Jewish world-view, the Torah’s prescription of death for violating the Sabbath seems a bit harsh. Why is breaking Shabbat a capital offense?

It is interesting to note the context in which we read about this law. It is sandwiched in between to two descriptions of the construction of the tabernacle. In the context of our building a home for God we are told that if we act in certain way we will die. There is an interesting parallel here to the story about God’s building us a home, the Garden of Eden. In Genesis we read, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.'(Genesis 2:16-17) Similarly, in Genesis if Adam did something the consequence was death. While they are connected by their punishments, what is the meaning of the connection between eating of the tree of Knowledge and working on Shabbat?

In both cases, God is charging humankind to be more then just creatures of habit. We are not just animals that eat and build. Our true humanity is in our capacity to reflect. We cannot let ourselves be just a derivative of our work lives. We have to seek meaning in our lives both through and beyond the physical. So too in our lives, we cannot be satisfied without taking a break from the everyday experience. We need to strive to be more then what we do for a living. If we do not remember that fact, we are already dead.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 204 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: