The first thing that I do when I get home from work is take off my shoes. I hurriedly
untie the laces and slip my little feet cages off. I almost expect a pop to erupt into the room, like
the sound of champagne being opened, when I take them off. A satisfying sound to mirror the
ecstasy of freeing my feet to the free world, unobstructed to breathe as true creatures of the open
I love relaxing. Being a Californian, born and raised, I aim to be someone who works to
live, not lives to work. Which is why my favorite holiday, in the entire Jewish calendar year, is
Shabbat. What a beautiful way to live our lives, knowing that while we work during the week to
make our world into the place we want it to be, that on Friday night, every week, we get time to
live in the world as if it is already completed. The rabbis actually called Shabbat a taste, a small
glimpse, of a perfect world.
But surprisingly enough, it is actually difficult to take breaks. I’ll admit that it’s easy to
get distracted, especially with the most popular book in our canon, Facebook, but to set time
aside and really give to yourself, really do something that is not related to your job or to what
you have to do at home, it can be difficult. We are a culture that is constantly laboring, when we
get home from a long day at work there is always something to do, cleaning, paying bills or
getting dinner ready. Email and smartphones have brought work and its responsibilities home to
our living rooms, dinner tables, and, let’s face it, our bathrooms too.
There might even be a little guilt around taking a break. The ancient Greeks used to say
that Jews were lazy because we rested on Shabbat while they worked. Thousands of years later,
this is our gift to the world. I once saw a bumper sticker that said, white letters on a blue
background, “The Labor Movement: The Folks that Brought You the Weekend.” The labor
movement was driven in the United States by a group of strong Jewish women, tired of working
ungodly hours in sweatshops and inspired by the value of rest that is exhibited every seven days
our the Jewish calendar.
But still, why is it so difficult to take a break? I know for myself I actually get a lot of
satisfaction from my work. I love the feeling of doing something that needs to be done. Years
ago I spent a summer as a chaplain at a hospital in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I distinctly
remember traversing the tiled halls to enter room after room of patients confronting their
mortality, sitting with people asking questions about what it means to be alive, and processing
together the profound emotions that accompany life and death experiences. I carried a pager that
would blast its beeps at any time of the day or night and with it a message of people in critical
condition, families in need of comfort. That summer had a profound impact on me. I woke up
every day feeling deeply needed.
But what I sorely neglected that summer, was that my friends, family and I / also needed
me. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of work, in the waves of energy that push a
successful enterprise into motion, and forget the needs of ourselves.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in having Shabbat arrive with the sunset. There is no
slowing it down. It comes on its own time. I can imagine our ancestors rested at that time out of
necessity, laying down their farming tools and taking their livestock inside because the darkness
made work terribly difficult. Today, I love living on that same clock.
It takes effort and intention to rest, to take time away from giving to the world, and have
a little time to take, a little time to receive. So I invite everyone this Shabbat to kick your shoes
off, enjoy some time away from the fast moving world, and take some time to recharge, refocus,
and enjoy. Shabbat Shalom.