Sep. 5, 2012
￼"Summertime and the living is easy..." The great American songbook is full of wistful melodies that so perfectly capture the essence of a lazy summer afternoon. "Summer lovin', had me a blast..." And now, as the slower pace of summer abruptly shifts into the frenzy of early fall, the question becomes: how can we hold onto some of the quiet calm of those golden summer days?
Taking the time to slow down doesn't just feel good -- it's good for us. Medically we are aware of the toll that our stressful and high-speed pace can take on our bodies. Anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, and many more ailments are linked to the non-stop way that so many of us live. But building in regular time to relax, unwind, and reflect is also important for our emotional and spiritual health.
When we move so quickly from task-to-task, activity- to-activity, it's easy for us to lose touch with what is most important. It is when we pause to enjoy quality time with friends or family, to explore the natural world, or to read a good book, that we recalibrate our internal compasses, allowing us to return to the daily grind with sharpened focus and a renewed ability to make choices based on our core values.
Renowned Jewish thinker and Zionist Ahad Ha'am famously wrote, "More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews." And although Ha'am originally wrote about Shabbat's role in keeping the Jewish People as a whole, his point certainly applies to each of us as individuals as well. The leadership of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Tex., wrote, "In the Sabbath, Judaism already has the best answer to the crisis of our time." Shabbat is our weekly taste of the quiet of a mid-summer vacation.
In the original iteration of the Ten Commandments that is found in the Book of Exodus, God commands us to zachor -- remember -- Shabbat. We must actively choose to set aside this time. We must remember that Shabbat is not a luxury, rather it is a necessity, and a commandment. If God could take a break from the work of creating the universe in order to rest for Shabbat, what are we doing that is so important that we can't also pause to rest and reflect?
Once we have set aside the time, we are ready to engage in the mitzvah of Shabbat as commanded in the repetition of the Ten Commandments found in Deuteronomy: shamor -- keep -- Shabbat. In observing this commandment, we may engage in the centering rituals of communal prayer, unplugging from email, or sharing a holiday meal. This paired commandment of remembering and keeping is what Judaism is all about -- mindfulness and action. Awareness that leads to righteous deeds.
Of course, much as September is the month during which we bid farewell to the more relaxed pace of the summer months, it is also the month during which we will celebrate Shabbat Shabbaton, the Shabbat of all Shabbatot. Shabbat Shabbaton is the other name for Yom Kippur. This may seem incongruous -- for so many of us Shabbat is a day of rest and celebration whereas Yom Kippur is a day of solemn contemplation, and even physical discomfort. Certainly Yom Kippur doesn't feel like a lazy summer afternoon! And yet, Shabbat and Yom Kippur do indeed have much in common. Both days are about memory.
We remember the blessings in our lives, we reflect on the past -- week or year -- and commit ourselves to self-improvement in the future -- week or year. We may remember a loved one who is no longer with us to share the holiday. And both days are also about action. We participate in communal prayer, we gather together with family and friends, we work on relationships that may need a little extra attention. If Shabbat is about mindfulness and action, awareness and righteous deeds, it is easy to see how Yom Kippur is indeed Shabbat Shabbaton, the ultimate Shabbat.
Perhaps in the coming weeks, when we find ourselves singing the end-of-summer blues, we can take comfort in the knowledge that we can reap the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of summer relaxation every Shabbat during the year, and especially this month on Yom Kippur. In so doing, may the New Year 5773 truly be a shanah tovah u'metukah -- a good and sweet year.