Take Time to Look at the Sky: Sage Advice for Summer Shabbats

August 2, 2018Rabbi Rick Schechter

Our lives can get so hurried and hectic sometimes. With long hours of work, responsibilities at home, errands, bills, the breakneck speed of life set by the modern technologies that we love and can’t seem to live without, at times we need moments just to catch our breath.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” wrote Ira Gershwin in “Porgy and Bess.” Even in the year 2018, hopefully there is still some truth to this great lyric. If the livin’ is not easy, perhaps at least, it’s easier. Our burdens may lighten. The pace may slow a few notches. Nature may beckon us toward repose. These are all things we desperately need during our fast and frenetic lives.

For thousands of years, Judaism has recognized such an ongoing need for rest and renewal. This is the purpose of Shabbat. On Shabbat, we let go of the burdens of labor and constant doing, so that our bodies and souls can be refreshed and renewed.

The wise Rebbe Nachman looked out his window one day to see his friend scurrying about in the marketplace. His friend was running this way and that way, frantically engaged in his labors and responsibilities.

After watching his friend carry on this way throughout most of the day, Rebbe Nachman opened his window and called out to his friend, “Joseph, have you seen the sky today?”

Joseph stopped for a moment and replied, “What! The sky! Who’s got time for that? I’m busy taking care of business.”

To which Nachman responded:

“Joseph, look around you. All of the people you see here running around the marketplace, including yourself, will be gone in less than a hundred years. Everyone and everything in this marketplace will pass away. So why not take the time to look at the sky?”

It’s sage advice. Nachman saw clearly what Joseph and we sometimes miss: the rushed pace of constant doing crowds out the necessary and nourishing time for just being. Just being in nature, just being with loved ones, just being with the people and things that are most important to us. These renew us and restore our perspective on life.

Shabbat affords us a weekly opportunity to do so. As another great Hasid who lived a century after Nachman, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote in his classic work The Sabbath:

“The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere … [Shabbat] is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” 

Like our weekly Shabbat, summer offers us a seasonal opportunity to slow down and focus upon what is eternal in time.

​So, during these summer months, when the livin’ is easy – or easier, may we take the time to look at the sky: admire a clear blue expanse of day or a burst of sunset, gaze up at a starlit night, contemplate a majestic mountainscape, marvel at the tumbling waves of an ocean, smell the redolent scent of a flower, listen to a beautiful piece of music, view beautiful works of art and architecture, be inspired by the goodness of others, and give and receive love – taking time to turn toward the mystery and wonders of creation.

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