This one line in the Bible has influenced much of my life. In Hebrew, the seventh day is called “Shabbat” or “Shabbas“. It starts at sundown on Friday night and ends when you can see three stars in the sky on Saturday evening. Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest.
Growing up in a fairly religious home, it seemed like there were a million and ten things I wasn’t allowed to do on Shabbat. It is a day when everyone and everything should be at rest; in essence, you are not allowed to change the state of anything. Fire can’t be started, and fire can’t be put out. In today’s world, this does not mean you should leave a burning house to burn. It means you should not turn on or off your electronics, as this would produce a spark. No television, no radios, no computers, no cars, no microwaves, and if you’re very observant – no turning lights on and off.
This obviously caused countless fights with my parents when I was little, especially because most of my friends weren’t Jewish. I would go play at other friends’ houses on Saturdays so that I could secretly watch movies or play on the computer with them.
“The Jewish Thing”
Another aspect of Shabbat is that you cannot earn or spend money. When I was younger, this meant no trips to the mall on Friday nights with my friends. Now that I’m older, it means that I can’t work on Friday nights or Saturdays. Throughout college, this always made for awkward conversation when working at restaurants or bars.
“Mark, you put me on the schedule again on Saturday morning”.” I would say to the manager.
“Uhh” remember” I can”t really work Saturdays””
“Oh. Right,” he would say, “the Jewish thing” I thought it was Saturday night you can”t work” Did I mess that up again””
“Yeah” it”s Friday nights, and Saturday” but I can work Saturday nights.”
“Right, well, see if you can get someone to switch shifts with you!”
Then I would get to make more awkward conversation by asking my coworkers to switch shifts with me cause of “that Jewish thing”.
I know that this seemed like a get-out-of-work-free card to many of my co-workers. Guaranteed Friday nights off! But it was actually rather annoying not to have the option to work on a Friday night. It meant I had to work Saturday night unless I asked for the entire weekend off (a ballsy thing to do in a bar chock-full of gossipy waitresses, always trying to get that ideal schedule). It meant I could rarely visit my boyfriend for the weekend (who lived two hours away). It meant that if a friend was in town on a Saturday night, or if there was a party on a Saturday night, I couldn’t ever go because I couldn’t work the Friday night shift instead. These truly are relatively minor annoyances in the scheme of things, but the point here is that I wasn’t glad that I couldn’t work when I wanted to.
Now that I live on my own, I’m finding my own balance. There are some things I do on Shabbat that my parents would not allow. I listen to music, and I drive my car. I typically get a lot of school work done on Saturdays (I’m in graduate school), whereas my parents always encouraged me to do work before or after Shabbat so that I could completely relax. However, I still don’t feel comfortable working on Friday nights, or going shopping on a Friday night.
Sometimes I find myself wishing that I observed Shabbat more closely. The notion of a day of rest, of complete relaxation, is a soothing idea. A lack of technology, of ringing phones and incoming e-mails could be a wonderful thing for 25 hours a week. A break from incessant research papers and dry, reading on educational philosophy would be nice as well.
A day of rest might do our society good as a whole. It would be a day when all of those businessmen who work 80-hour weeks go home to their families. It would be a day when over-achieving students spend time going out with friends to play football in the park. It would be a day to catch up with friends, visit family, go to the beach or the park, or to read that book you’ve been dying to read but never had a moment to. A day of rest might make everyone slow down a bit and just relax.
People might ask, “Who would run the pizza shops” or “Who would keep the bars open”? And if you live in New Jersey, you might ask, “Who will pump my gas”? The answer to all of those questions would be “no one.” Shabbat would become a time to spend with your friends and family, and sometimes just with yourself. When I’ve been in Israel during Shabbat, almost all of the shops close down for the day, and it’s a much quieter, altogether different experience. There just isn’t any rushing around.
I’m Trying to Stop and Smell the Roses
As much as I love the idea of Shabbat, I haven’t been able to observe it as much as I’d like to. I worry too much about getting papers done on time, and I can’t picture not answering my phone on a Friday night. I imagine it would take a large shift in my mindset for me to be able to do so. I can’t really blame this on “American society” either, because my parents, my more religious friends, and many other observant Jews out there do it every week.
Shabbat is one of the amazing things that I think Judaism has to offer but fortunately, you don’t have to be Jewish or any religion at all to take a stab at “slowing down.” It’s something that I’m working on, and I hope that one day I can get to the point in my life when I can force myself to slow down more, take a deep breath, and smell the roses.