On the seventh day God finished the work, which God had been doing, and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work, which he had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation, which God had done.
These verses from this week’s Torah portion are our introduction to Shabbat. It is a familiar story; God was busy with the work of creation for six days, and on the seventh day, when God finished the work, God rested. We are instructed to do the same. We are to work, (that’s for sure!) but then we are to act as God did — to rest.
However, that is often easier said than done.
As has been noted by Rabbi Lori Forman, “even though we are called human beings, most often we are human doings. Many of us are afraid to slow down. We wouldn’t know what to do without the constant activity.” The unfortunate reality is that we convince ourselves that we do not have time to spend in such frivolous activities as resting, taking care of ourselves, and simply being, instead of doing.
It is not our fault, for we are of a society that does not like to rest. We may physically leave our offices at the end of the day, but we do not leave our work behind. With all of our technology, it is too easy to keep work on our minds and to bring it with us wherever we go. Is this the rest from work that God had in mind?
Our tradition is clear that observing Shabbat rest is a mitzva that we are obligated to keep. Why? Because Shabbat is exactly what we need.
Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan called the Sabbath a “pause in our brush-work” of life and compares its importance to the critical rest moments of an artist. “An artist,” he observed, “cannot be continually wielding his brush. He must stop at times in his painting to freshen his vision of the object, the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas.”
Shabbat then, is all about pausing, about taking time for a fresh look at what we are trying to do with our lives. Getting away from our work, for even a brief moment, allows us a chance to re-evaluate, to rejuvenate our energies and talents. After celebrating Shabbat, we are then ready to, as Kaplan says, “take ourselves to our painting with clarified vision and renewed energy.”
In other words, each of us must stop ourselves along the journey of life and make time for Shabbat. This means viewing Shabbat as a time to turn off our cell phones, computers, and iPads and concentrate instead on our families, our friends, and ourselves. Shabbat is the time for us to rejuvenate and renew — not only our bodies but our souls as well. Shabbat is exactly what we need.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)