The holidays are over. My children are finally back in school (hallelujah). Thus far, I’ve written about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Shemini Atzeret for The Jewish Mother Project. Now it’s time to tackle the most important (and frequent) Jewish holiday of them all: Shabbat.
Here’s the question that immediately popped into my mind: Why don’t we all observe Shabbat all the time?
Think about it: We’ve got the wisdom of Torah, the support of our community, the insights of modern science, and the words of God himself (or herself, depending on how you look at it) all telling us to take it easy already. What more do we need?
One could argue that observing all of the super specific restrictions of Shabbat can make a lot of extra work, but let’s just agree to stand on one foot for a minute and focus on what really matters. Shabbat is about taking a day to get a little distance from the lists and screens and obligations and stresses that permeate virtually every moment of the rest of the week. It’s about reconnecting with family, friends, nature, Judaism, or God, and all that other good stuff we so easily lose touch with in the chaos of every other day.
That sounds awesome, right? So why is it so hard?
About 10 years ago (before our girls were born), my husband Josh and I decided to begin a Shabbat observance. After some discussion, we agreed on no screens and no errands so we could focus on spending time with each other, family, and friends. We started lighting candles on Friday nights, and we made it to Saturday morning services more often than not.
Our attendance at services became less frequent after the girls were born (although we did make it to Tot Shabbat most months), but we stuck with most of the rest of it fairly well. Our Friday night dinners frequently started and ended with someone crying (usually one of the girls, but not always) and were often interrupted by a poop (usually one of the…actually, never mind), but we muddled through.
And then things started to change. I don’t remember precisely when or how it happened, but it may have been related to our decision to buy a new house. Suddenly we were spending our Saturdays attending open houses, and when we weren’t out wandering through strangers’ bedrooms, we were obsessively checking real estate apps for the latest listings and updates. After a couple of years, we finally had an offer accepted on a house that would require major renovations.
As it turns out, most of the tile and lighting and appliance stores in our area are closed on Sundays. Without ever talking about it or making a conscious choice to let go of our Shabbat practice, we just sort of did it. It wasn’t a total loss; we still avoided the mall and we didn’t watch TV or sit down at our computers, but we were definitely checking our smartphones and running errands for the house. The bottom line, though, is that it didn’t feel like Shabbat anymore.
Shabbat is hard because life is insidious. If we don’t have habits and rituals and a specific plan to keep it at bay, it will overrun us with its false sense of importance and mini crises that can seem so important until something truly major happens that puts it all in perspective. Of course, by then we’re too exhausted to deal with it. Unless we’ve been getting a little rest and perspective all along. Thank goodness for Shabbat.
In preparation for re-engaging with Shabbat, I went back and re-read the posts I wrote about Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret. There are two lessons from those holidays that I want to revisit on a regular basis: the idea of exercising my “behavior change muscle” every week, and the importance of taking a day each week to just be, “an opportunity to process everything that has happened, to integrate what we have struggled with and learned.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it more eloquently when he said, “Shabbat is the day we stand still and let all our blessings catch up with us.”
Over the past seven years, my husband and I have been blessed with two healthy daughters (pu pu pu), consistent employment, and a new home. Yet it is so easy for me to get caught up in petty annoyances, minor inconveniences, and a never-ending list of errands and tasks. I can so easily convince myself that what really matters is checking all of the boxes on my list, and that once I finally get that one, everything will be better and feel easier.
But those aren’t the only boxes I need to check. There’s also gratitude and relaxation and connection and all of the other possibilities that open up when I’m not staring at a screen or worrying about getting something done. So that’s where I’m going to start. I’ll still answer my phone, but I won’t be running errands or checking email or Facebook from Friday night to Saturday night.
This is going to be a big change for me, and not an easy one. But I think it’s going to be worth it. I’ll keep you all updated on how it goes.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear how you celebrate Shabbat with your family. What works for you? What doesn’t?