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The Shalom of Shabbat

The Shalom of Shabbat

We live in a world in which we are constantly overworked, overtired, and overstressed, leaving us with the feeling that we have so much to accomplish and not enough time to do it all. Often, we come home after a long day at work only to discover that there is more to do at home: bills to pay, budgets to balance, groceries to buy, dishwashers to empty, laundry to fold, and more. In fact, our to-do lists at home often are as long as our to-do lists in the office. And yet, this is the cycle of our lives ― a constant whirlwind of obligations and demands for our time and attention at every turn.

My father, who has been practicing martial arts for a little over a year, always reminds me that the first goal of self-defense is not to attack, but rather to alleviate the tension associated with a situation. I believe that the more tension we experience in our daily lives, the more susceptible we are to frustration, irritability, and agitation. However, there are glimpses of light that shine upon us throughout the week, sacred moments that allow us to take deep breaths, to smile, and to relax, despite the tensions that surround us. For example, we receive a compliment for a job well done, we watch our child excel at a soccer game, a piano recital, or a spelling bee, or we listen to a novel during the car ride to work. Even as the work-a-day week drains us, these moments sustain and renew us.

The Hasidic mystical tradition teaches that our anticipation of Shabbat accumulates throughout the week. By Wednesday, we may hear greetings of "Shabbat shalom!" from friends and colleagues, giving us a sense that Shabbat is within our reach. Jewish Theological Seminary professor and author Eitan Fishbane encourages us to use Shabbat not only as a reminder of our best selves, but also to guide our comings and goings during the week ahead.(Eitan Fishbane, The Sabbath Soul: Mystical Reflections on the Transformation Power of Holy Time, 174.) Even though Shabbat is a distinct realm of sacred time and space, our focus, our kavannah, on the essence of this day as one of rest, renewal, and transformation can stay with us throughout the week, helping us ― as we are commanded to do ― to both observe and remember Shabbat.

When we intersperse elements of Shabbat throughout the workweek, we can help mitigate our feelings of being overworked, overtired, and overstressed, as well as create a sense of shalom. This shalom not only strengthens the peace we feel within, but also can restore us from a state of "broken" to one of completeness and wholeness. True focus and attention to Shabbat ― whether on the day itself or during the week ― helps us lift ourselves up so that we can be hard workers rather than overworked, well-rested rather than overtired, and motivated rather than stressed.

May the wonder and light of the seventh day be part of our lives the entire week, and may we overcome the barriers and obstacles we encounter so that we can once again be whole.

Rabbi P.J. Schwartz is the rabbi educator at Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, CA. He is married to his college sweetheart, Michelle, a special education teacher.

Rabbi P.J. Schwartz
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