Why are some people able to accept a gift gracefully and others do not know how?
Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and at the culmination of creation, God created rest on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3) and gave it to us as part of the Ten Commandments. In the repetition of the commandments, the Sabbath is equated with freedom, being a reminder of our release from the bondage of Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). We are a holy people because the Lord our God is holy (Exodus 20:8-11) and the Sabbath is a holy time.
What is it about human beings that we are unable to see the beauty, the necessity, the awesomeness of this natural cycle? What is it about what happens in our lives for six days that cannot benefit from this lovely rest, to be resumed with a restored spirit?
Think of the number of things we seek out in our lives to manufacture a change, a shift, a getaway from it all: recess, vacation, weekend, holiday, TGIF, dress-down day, summer reading.
And yet, we cannot reorganize our lives to accept 25 hours per week of holy time. The great European writer Joseph Roth let us know that "the Sabbath approaches on holy feet."
Why is it that the more freedom we have to celebrate our rich heritage, the less time we are willing to give it? Why is it that a crisis gives us a feeling of solidarity and freedom rends us apart? Why is it that most of us think of our heritage as a series of "thou shalt nots?" The Sabbath is a series of "thou shalls."
Like any change in behavior, incremental change is more likely to stay than a 180°-turn around. The Sabbath is perfect for that type of change. Twenty-five hours out of the 168 hour-week -- 52 days out of the 365-day year. Sound doable?
There is help for us -- banks, stores and all types of services are available seven days a week to allow us to remove ourselves for one day, on Shabbat, from the world of space into a world of time.
The late Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book on the High Holidays, says that perhaps more of us do not allow Shabbat into our lives not because it is inconvenient or we are spiritually lazy but because we are afraid to be alone with ourselves -- afraid if we are not fully "busy," we will not like who we encounter in this empty time.
The Sabbath is not a one-size fits all, but a time to customize and improvise from an extensive list of positive activities that would create a true Shabbat Shalom in our lives.
What can Shabbat mean to you? An opportunity for intellectual, spiritual or theological introspection? A time for family, friends and community? Do you want to read, take a walk or a nap? Share a meal and the songs and spirit of the day? The possibilities are vast.
We kindle the lights at the beginning of Shabbat and the flame lingers long as the wax burns down. We allow Shabbat to linger just a bit at the end of our 25 hours of renewal as we say Havdalah. We don't want to let go once we have allowed this holy time to take over our being.
Take this time -- it's a gift from God.
Elaine Katz lives in Center City and has been active for many years in synagogues and charitable organizations in Philadelphia.