Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shabbat, the Day of Unplugging

There was a recent article suggesting a "day of unplugging" based more or less on the Jewish practice of Shabbat.  The non-Jewish people who read it probably missed this part, not being familiar with the practice, and consequently took it to mean disengaging from the cell phone and from electronic communication in general -- an almost reactionary response to the proliferation of wired contemporary life.

OK, *goyim.  Here's the deal.. We do Shabbat.  Not as a one day rebellion against the cell phone and the computer, but as a lifestyle.  

My first experience of Shabbat was as a young wife.  We were visiting our parents in Santa Cruz and my musician husband happened to pick up an unexpected Saturday night gig at a local club.  He had a white shirt with him, but it was wrinkled and he needed to iron it. I say he needed to iron it.  No one who has seen my work has ever allowed me near a shirt with an iron a second time.  For this, I am grateful.  Meanwhile, since my mother was a professional seamstress and consequently would not have needles or pins or an ironing board in the house, we went across town to his mother's house to iron the shirt.

She was sitting in her chair with a copy of Reader's Digest when we arrived, and when Bob suggested he needed his shirt ironed, she smiled and said, "NO.  It's Shabbat."  How could he have forgotten?   Were we not just there the night before for Friday dinner?  But I was new to the idea of Shabbat itself.  I thought Friday night supper and light the candles, go to temple, and on with our lives.  It seemed she did not lift a finger on Shabbat, regardless of dire emergency.  They finally worked out he could do it himself, out of her presence, so long as she was not involved in it in any way.  So he did.  I was astonished at her steadfastness.  If you think about it, not doing any work at all is really, really hard.  For a Jewish mother NOT to do something for her own son is really amazing.  Clara Marchesi was an amazing woman. 

There's always something that needs attention -- something falls on the floor, the dishes pile up, empty soda cans collect, just a little bit of laundry to do... sorry.  None of the above can be addressed until three stars are visible in the night sky.   Doing dishes is plowing.  What if, when you let the water out, some leaks out of a pipe and accidently gets into the soil and moistens a sleeping seed and a plant grows as a result?  You see?  Plowing.  Get over yourself.  The dishes can wait.  Clara, an otherwise fastidious woman, could turn her back on all of it on Shabbat without mussing a hair.  That was just stunning to me. 

That was 50 years ago. In our present day of electronic living, Shabbat is even more difficult.  It isn't hard at all to avoid running out to the Mall or the supermarket, or doing the ironing, but there is so much online commerce that it's not that hard to forget yourself and open up to see if that book is as good as they say or take a look at this yarn or that computer, or just take a quick look your bank balance or pay that bill...  so Shabbat unplugging is not such a bad idea.   

But again, by looking at the surface we're missing the point of the exercise.  So we can't do a lot of stuff -- we are unpplugged at some levels -- on Shabbat, but what can we do?  Shabbat vayenafash.  (This literally means we become ensouled (nefesh).)  On Shabbat we are rested and refreshed.  We can read, take naps, do things that bring pleasure, like making love, eating good food, having pleasant conversations.  When we light those candles on Friday, twently minutes before sunset, we can actually feel the Sabbath Bride enter.  I swear, it's a tangible thing.  You can feel the Presence enter your home and settle in around you as a welcome guest.  She's there!  The Shekinah just comes right in the front door and makes Herself right at home.   Gives you a hug in greeting.  Visits for a little bit.  Bring out the best ever homemade Challah.  She deserves only the best.  Make that two loaves!  Wouldn't want her to think we're cheap! 

She brings with her a deep peace, Shabbat Shalom.  On Saturday night, 25 hours after it all began, we say Havdallah, lighting the many wicks of the braided candle, passing around the container of spice to remember the sweet scent of Shabbat, sharing the cup of wine, and then, with reluctance and determination, extinguishing the candle in its dregs.  You can feel her leave as profoundly as you felt her arrive.  Someone with real presence has gone out of the room.  There is a tangible emptiness. 

She'll be back! 

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam

asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu

l'had'lik ner shel Shabbat. (Amein)

  * n.b. -- meant to be affectionate, not offensive.

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