Posts Tagged 'Shabbat'



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.

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.
 Scene.
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

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.


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