This Year, I'm Taking Inspiration from Shabbat 7 Days of the Week – Kveller
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This Year, I’m Taking Inspiration from Shabbat 7 Days of the Week

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This year, I’m thinking about New Year’s resolutions differently: new year, new me.

Well, kind of.

In my teens and 20s, I spent many a January 1st setting unrealistic – and borderline unhealthy – resolutions to exercise more and adopt strict diets based on photoshopped spreads in fashion magazines. I wanted to be thinner, more athletic and ultra-organized. I wanted to buy more stylish things – clothes, furniture, whatever – in the mistaken belief that these superficial overhauls would somehow improve my happiness.

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I’m glad to say that this is a practice I gave up at some point. Maybe it was motherhood or maturity (or maybe something related to living through an almost three-year pandemic), but I see that those were misguided and materialistic attempts at making myself better.

Nevertheless, the ending of one year and beginning of another tend to make me reflective – like how I feel during that other new year, Rosh Hashanah. Even though I don’t really make resolutions in the same way I used to, I still find myself thinking of the triumphs and perceived failures of the past year while looking ahead to my hopes and goals for the upcoming one. These goals often take the shape of a lengthy mental to-do list that, while aspirational, still apply pressure for me to do things differently. Better. Write more. Publish more. Keep the house cleaner. Eat more vegetables. Run a marathon. Run faster. Wake up earlier. Read more. Be more patient. Practice yoga every day. Quit Amazon. Shop local. Save money.

Though well-intentioned, this still means more work, pressure and, ultimately, stress.

So how, you might ask, am I approaching the New Year differently this year?

My magic formula for a new me in 2023?


I’ve long been a fan of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s definition of Shabbat as a day defined by “sacred moments.” “When all work is brought to a standstill,” he wrote in his seminal book “The Sabbath,” “…the world becomes a place of rest. An hour arrives like a guide, and raises our minds above accustomed thoughts.”

As I’ve written about before, even this simple act of letting go and embracing a Shabbat attitude has not always come easy to me. But Heschel includes a tidbit of practical advice that has been immensely helpful in my quest for meaningful Shabbat practices. Quoting from Exodus, he writes, “‘Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work.’ Is it possible for a human being to do all his work in six days? Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the verse means to convey is: Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done. Another interpretation: Rest even from the thought of labor.

This simple advice has had profound effects on me and how I observe Shabbat. That is, I’ve always fallen into the trap of thinking that everything on my to-do list needs to be finished for me to relax or even deserve to rest. When it comes to Shabbat, this often meant that if my house wasn’t cleaned, a proper homemade Friday night meal cooked, challah baked, kitchen counters de-cluttered and important work deadlines all met, that I somehow already failed at Shabbat, and I’d enter my weekend feeling inadequate.

Now, Heschel’s book is not without flaws (for instance, it is very clear that “The Sabbath,” first published in 1951, is very much written for male Jews, though that’s a topic for another article), but this advice felt revolutionary the first time I read it. I don’t have to try and do everything before Shabbat: I am meant to enjoy and relax despite of – or even because of – everything that remains undone. Shabbat gives me permission to stop worrying so much about to-do lists, chores, deadlines, toddler schedules, screen time, etc., and find the beauty, joy and sacredness in the world around me. There is a lot of self-care messaging out in the world – often, it seems, targeted at mothers – advising us to give ourselves grace and kindness, though how we are supposed to achieve that is frequently left unsaid. Heschel’s understanding of the Jewish day of rest is finally helping me really understand what that means as a practice.

What if the simple yet profound act of giving myself grace doesn’t only have to be for Shabbat? What will happen if I am this kind – forgiving – to myself (and those around me) every day? What if I live every day by the rule that I don’t have to earn rest, but deserve to rest because of my never-ending to-do list?

What if – and this is a big one – more women started thinking like this? We live in a world full of gaps that disadvantage women – chore gaps, wage gaps, promotion and hiring gaps, child-caring gaps, healthcare gaps, all of which are even worse for women of color. If more women start to live by the notion that we all deserve the freedom to rest, relax and enjoy our daily lives – to understand that our time is sacred – is it possible that we might not only find peace for ourselves, but in some small ways chip away at those gaps?

Honestly, I don’t have an answer to those questions yet, but I do know that shifting how I think of Shabbat and rest has undoubtedly changed how I experience the day. I suspect that adopting this attitude the other six days of the week has the potential to make 2023 a great year.

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