I used to view Shabbat as a day of boredom, restriction, and a waste of time. As a kid, I was obligated to go to synagogue. I remember seeing old rabbis with long beards mumbling prayers in a foreign language. What is the point of sitting around on Saturday morning in a place where I’m supposed to be connecting to God, I thought to myself, when I don’t even speak the language?
I thought the rules of Shabbat were contradictory. If Shabbat was a day of rest and no work, how was walking two miles to synagogue instead of driving more “restful"? Why is turning on a light switch considered "work"? These questions were the source of much of my confusion and resentment towards Shabbat.
Growing up, my family typically celebrated Shabbat by driving to my grandparents’ home on Friday nights. The only part I looked forward to was being with my family. My grandfather would say Kiddush and Hamotzi, and the rest of the night proceeded like any other regular night. The TV was on, we all used our cell phones, text messaged at the dinner table, and drove back home.
It was only after I experienced my first true Shabbat in Israel this past summer that I began to appreciate and identify its inherent beauty. During our first week on the trip, we traveled through Jerusalem, down south to Sderot, and ended with Shabbat in Tzfat in Northern Israel, known for its intense spirituality and the study of Kabbalah.
Friday morning Rabbi Yitz Jacobs, from Aish LA, gave a class on “The Beauty of Shabbat.” I sat in the front row on the edge of my seat, anxious to ask him all my questions that had piled up over the last decade. I could hardly contain myself from pouring out all my criticisms about Shabbat in front of everyone, but I did my best to first hear him out. What I heard that morning blew my mind.
“Shabbat is about disconnecting in order to connect."
“Shabbat is about disconnecting in order to connect with God," Rabbi Jacobs explained. "We disconnect from computers, telephones, television, and electronics, in order to connect with spirituality and with our loved ones. On Shabbat we have the ability to focus, to be in the present moment, and have gratitude for all that we have.”
I completely misunderstood the concept of Shabbat for the past 23 years. It’s not about “not working;” it’s about being with what already exists, and not creating anything new for 25 hours. It’s about stopping the constant obsession with building, creating, and fixing for one day and just enjoying the amazing things we take for granted, like our relationships with family members, and our connection with friends. It’s about truly being in the present moment, and not sitting at the dinner table, thinking about our jobs, finances, schoolwork, problems or lacks, but thinking about how blessed we are for everything we already have.
I realized that I was missing this in my life. I am always on the go doing something. I never stop. I rarely take a few moments to just relax and enjoy both the simple and the greatest things in my life: my wonderful sisters, my friends, my home, my bed, my ability to learn, feeling God's love, all my accomplishments. I have so much to be thankful for, but I never give myself a minute to even appreciate any of it. When was the last time I stared at the flowers in my garden and thanked God for making the world so beautiful?
The laws of Shabbat enable us to learn to appreciate the fruits of our labor. We pull back from creating in order to gain the ability to actually see all that already exists in our lives
I began to see Shabbat in a whole different light. What a concept: a day of gratitude and connection with loved ones.
I was curious to try a real Shabbat for the first time in my life. No phone, no laptop, no TV, no car, no iPod. Just connection. Just being. Being with people I love. Thanking God for all He has blessed me with.
When Shabbat arrived, I had the patience and focus to close my eyes, tune into my inner world and soul and really thank God for all my blessings. I was focused and felt connected with the people I spoke to. Our group drank wine, ate challah, had a five course meal, took part in intimate conversations, gave some “L’chaims,” sang Shabbat songs and talked until three in the morning. We had no phones to distract us. Instead, we had real human, face-to-face interactions.
Shabbat was right in front of me the whole time, I only had to properly experience it to really see it.