Practice of Shabbat

Shabbat is the celebration of two monumental aspects of human life:

  • The creation of the universe.
  • Our liberation as a people from Egypt--and the resulting message that the world can be liberated from all forms of oppression.

Yet the celebration is more than just a moment of thankfulness. It is, rather, a personal reliving of the creation and of the liberation.

For 25 hours (from 18 minutes before sunset on Friday night until it's dark enough to see at least three stars on Saturday night) we re-orient ourselves and change the way we live our lives.

Here is how we change: Instead of trying to control the world or exercise our dominance over nature, we celebrate the universe.

  • We rejoice in the physical world.
  • We approach the world with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of creation--and thank God for Creation.
  • We rejoice in our freedom. And we exercise that freedom by refraining from all forms of work and domination over nature.
  • We rejoice in each other.
  • We rejoice in all that is.
  • We rejoice in our bodies.
  • We enjoy sexuality.
  • We play.
  • We eat good food.
  • We connect with our own deepest inner places.
  • We learn about ourselves.
  • We engage in non-work related study of Judaism, spirituality, or anything else that uplifts our spirits and is fun to learn.
  • We allow ourselves to be alone.
  • We allow ourselves to be with others.
  • We allow ourselves to be with God.

Shabbat is a gift of love from God to the world (and from you to anyone you share this spiritual practice with).

What makes Shabbat a gift of love?

Love is the permission we give to each other and to ourselves to leave the world of power and control and to enter into a consciousness of non-goal-directed playfulness, humor, silliness, sensual pleasure, mutual recognition and caring, celebration, joy, wonder, amazement, and awe.

Shabbat is a particular spiritual practice whose goal is to maximize this kind of loving energy in your life.

Politics of Meaning and Shabbat

Shabbat is a time to refresh our souls, to pause and reconnect ourselves to the goal of such a struggle. The rabbis of our tradition called Shabbat "shades of the Messiah" to indicate that on Shabbat we could create a moment in which we experienced some of what it might be like in the world that we hope to create some day.

The Need for Ecological Awareness

All week long we are part of the frenetic rush of time as our society seeks to dominate and control nature. Our fundamental orientation to the world is based on how to make the world respond to our needs and demands.

There is nothing wrong with human beings seeking to exercise some degree of control. We are glad that the human community has developed science and technology and we rejoice in the many benefits that these enterprises have brought to us. But we are also aware that in the process there has been a skewing of the way we look upon the world that can be very destructive.

When the physical world is seen as little more than a "resource" for solving human needs, we get a very distorted relationship to the natural world. We begin to think that the earth has an inexhaustible supply of resources for us to use up in any way that we please, and that we can dump our waste matter without limit. Moreover, our economic system allows a few thousand major multinational corporations to make the major decisions about how to use the world's land, air, rivers, streams, minerals, trees, and oceans--and for the most part this use has been motivated by the desire to maximize corporate profits. The result has been a monumental ecological crisis that may very well destroy the planet or at least all human life on it.

We need to learn how to balance our legitimate need to control some aspects of the planet with another orientation of awe and respect for the environment.

The Need for Spiritual Awareness

The competitive marketplace encourages us to think of everything solely from the perspective of "what can I get from it?" Everyday in the world of work, people learn that their work is being judged in accord with a "bottom line" that assesses them in terms of how much money and power they can accumulate for the corporation or, if they work as private entrepreneurs or independent professionals or small business people, for themselves. We are encouraged to look at others primarily in terms of how they can serve us--in our assent to greater power in the corporate or non-profit or governmental or educational institution in which we work, or in helping us obtain sales or clients or patients.

And there is never enough. No matter how much money or power we accumulate, we never feel secure. We know that there are others who might take advantage of us, push themselves forward if we are not constantly on the alert, using every moment to push our own careers forward.

The result is a frenetic life. Increasing numbers of people report that, despite the advent of timesaving devices like computers and faxes and modems, they feel that they have less and less time for themselves.

Moreover, what time they do have has been polluted by the dominant way of thinking in the society. "Looking out for number one" and seeing other people as means to your own ends and looking at the earth as nothing more than a resource for human needs is egocentric and destructive. These attitudes, of course, are never confined to the economic marketplace. When people have been working all day in an environment that teaches us to look at everything from the standpoint of "what's in it for me?" they inevitably bring this same way of thinking home. The result is a monumental spiritual and ethical crisis--a crisis of materialism and selfishness.

These issues require social and political action. They require a powerful ecological movement, a movement that fights for social justice and for a "new bottom line" in our society, so that rationality and productivity gets defined not solely in terms that measure money and power, but also in terms that take into account how much love, caring, solidarity, and spiritual, ethical, and ecological sensitivity has been generated. To recognize that human beings have a need to be part of a world governed by something more than money and power, that we have a need for higher ethical and spiritual meaning, and to rebuild our social institutions so that they support us rather than undermine our spiritual and ethical needs--this is what we mean by a politics of meaning.

Shades of the Messiah

The struggle to change the world in this way is central to what Judaism is about. Shabbat is "zeycher l'tziyat Mitrzrayim," a day to remember the Exodus from Egypt, and its message to the world: Class structure is not built into the fabric of reality as some unchangeable element, oppressive social and economic systems can be replaced by more just systems, the world can be fundamentally remade, and we are part of the process through which that can take place.

Changing the world takes a long time. As a community, we are committed to that struggle.

So how do we survive in the meantime? How do we ensure that we don't lose our way, forget our highest goal, and become so completely dominated by the logic of the marketplace that the spiritual realities we believe in become empty slogans?

That's where Shabbat comes in.

We need a time to refresh our souls, to pause and reconnect. Instead of waiting for these struggles to be won, we can create a weekly moment of spiritual nourishment in which we get a "taste" of the time for which we are hoping and struggling.

Shabbat as a Spiritual Practice

The various religious and spiritual traditions of the world have evolved a wide variety of spiritual practices to help people get closer to their own selves, to God, to the Unity of All Being, to the Force of Healing and Transformation. Shabbat is a central spiritual practice of the Jewish tradition. Shabbat has been practiced and observed in a variety of ways throughout Jewish history. It is open to anyone from any background who wishes to become a practitioner.

Like every spiritual practice, it takes some time and attention to fully "get it." Shabbat is not something you "get" by one try.

If you have ever tried meditation, you probably know that it takes many hours of practice before it begins to open the doors of your consciousness to new realms. Similarly, if you've ever been in psychotherapy, you probably know that the first few times are not likely to produce profound transformation. In fact, even when you have momentary insights, you need a lot of time to integrate what you have learned into your own life. It's not uncommon for many people to "forget" what they momentarily saw during their therapy hour or to find it difficult to maintain their insights once they return to the pressures of daily life.

To get the full taste of Shabbat takes 25 hours of commitment, and it feels deeper and more fulfilling when you've given that kind of time each week for several months. If you can do that, you'll find that the rhythm of the rest of your week is profoundly changed and that you start to look forward to Shabbat. Coming to synagogue on Friday night and then going back to your regular life on Saturday will not give you the full experience (although if that is all you can do at the moment, you can get much value from that).

Remember: There is no one correct way to enter this practice.

Shabbat is an invitation into another way of living. The invitation is open. Take it when you want, when it feels right for you. We at Beyt Tikkun synagogue are happy to have you as part of our community, and we don't make judgments about what level of spiritual practice people ought to be engaged in. But, we do invite and encourage you to explore Shabbat as a spiritual practice.

Some of our members come to synagogue from time to time. Many come more regularly, and coming to synagogue is the entirety of their Shabbat observance. Others will come to services and then dedicate an hour or two outside synagogue to some Shabbat practice. Still others are trying to find their way to a full 25-hour Shabbat experience. We honor all of these different practices.

And although we invite you to participate in the fullest Shabbat observance, we know that many of our members will never find that this makes sense for their lives, and they are just as cherished and important and valuable members of our community as anyone else.

In putting forward the vision of a 25-hour Shabbat experience, we do not want to suggest to you that there is only one way to celebrate Shabbat. For many people what may work best is trying some aspect of Shabbat, incorporating that into their lives, and when that feels good, expanding the practice to some other segment.

The practice of Shabbat, once it is integrated into your life in a full way and done for some period of time, becomes such a wonderful experience, so fulfilling and exciting and joyful, that we want to share it with you.

The Basic Principles of this Spiritual Practice

REJOICE!

Get into joy, celebration and pleasure.

LET GO OF WORRY.

To really get into Shabbat, you have to let go of worrying about work, money, power, control, and all the little details of your life.

All that may sound easy. But it actually takes a lot of attention and the development of spiritual discipline. When you've spent all week long worrying about how things are going in your work world or in your finances, or about how to get people to think and feel about you the way you wish they would, or how to get the details of your life together (how to get your house to be neater or in good repair, your garden to grow, your shopping done, your bank account balanced, your bills paid, your clothes washed and ironed, your car adequately serviced), it's hard to stop thinking about these things on Shabbat.

The various "laws" or "restrictions" of Shabbat come from the accumulated wisdom of people who have been trying this practice for the past 3200 years. What they've come up with is a list of things to avoid:

  • Don't use money or even touch money.
  • Don't work or even think about work.
  • Don't cook or clean or sew or iron or do housework.
  • Don't write or use the computer, the telephone or any other electronic gadgets.
  • Don't create fire.
  • Don't fix things up or tear things down--leave the world the way it is.
  • Don't organize things, straighten things out, or take care of errands and other things that have to be done. Wait until Sunday.

We can summarize the basic principle in the following way: Instead of trying to change, shape, or transform the physical world, take a more responsive stance on Shabbat. Respond to the world with joy, celebration, awe, and wonder. Open yourself to the miracle of the universe.

So, it is in that spirit that we need to take all the basic points of what you may do or not do on Shabbat. The Halachah, Jewish law, gives us some guidance. But the real point is not a list of "dos" and "don'ts", but rather to develop in our own lives a way of doing Shabbat that actually arrives at the desired result. So, you need to test for yourselves what works and what doesn't work.

For example, some people find that using the telephone or listening to music or taking photographs works to enhance their experience of spiritual joy and relaxation. Others report that the continued disconnection from all mechanical devices for 25 hours is a real liberation that creates a unique experience that they cannot get if they start to rely on this or that gadget. Some people find that a ride in the country on Shabbat afternoon can bring them to the spiritual space where they want to be. Others report that the freedom from riding in an automobile on Shabbat is as spiritually liberating as any experience of nature that required a drive to get there.

Some people worry that an excessive focus on what they should or should not do will ruin the whole Shabbat experience. Yet others report that it is precisely by keeping this question in their consciousness throughout the day that keeps them from falling back into patterns of "getting and spending," of taking control and "making things happen," or of worrying about the rest of the week.

Some people like to say, "I'll do whatever feels good at the time." But there's a danger in this as well: the unconscious sometimes subverts our most holy intentions. In this case, our unconscious guilt that we are not "doing something productive" leads us to think that detachment from accomplishments doesn't feel good.

At its best, Shabbat establishes a balance between your individual spiritual life and the spiritual life of a community doing service to God. There are moments in which the main focus is on being with others in joyous communal celebration. There are moments when the main focus is on your family or being with friends. There are moments when the main focus is on being alone and communing with nature, caring for your own soul, connecting to God. The right balance for you may vary at different times during your life, and at different times during any given year. There are times when the best thing for you is to be totally alone, not trying to "justify" or "explain" your spiritual practice to others--just doing it. On such a Shabbat, the last thing you need is to feel obliged to come to the community prayer service. There will be other times when it will feel spiritually more congruent to spend more time with your community, even if that cuts into your alone time. There will be times when the best balance will involve sharing a Shabbat meal with friends, even teaching them how to do it and sharing with them your own spiritual path.

The key to working out the correct balance is to allow yourself to be in touch with your own soul, check in with yourself, and let yourself respond to your own deepest needs. On the other hand, if what you are hearing is a message that says, "I've really got to do this particular bit of business, or attend to that pressing errand, or buy this something that I can't find time to buy the rest of the week" be suspicious of the message. Chances are that you may be hearing the internalized voices of a very demanding and intrusive economic system, and not the voice of your soul! In that case, it may make sense to allow yourself to be guided by the mitzvot, the commands of Shabbat practice, which becomes not an obligation but an opportunity to leave behind those internalized voices of the marketplace! We at Beyt Tikkun are a Halachic community in the sense that we believe it is better to have a shared set of guidelines so we don't have to recalculate what is going to work best each time we celebrate Shabbat and so we don't unconsciously yield to marketplace pressures. Our community encourages its members to not do any work, not to use money, smoke, cook, create or extinguish fires, and to avoid activities that involve shaping the world.

Please don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether you are doing it right. If you are into it, finding your own path as you simultaneously learn more deeply about the traditions and delve into the wealth of this community's holy texts and accumulated wisdom, you will eventually find the balance that works for you.

Remember, if you are spending from Friday evening to Saturday evening in activity dedicated to joy, celebration, inner spiritual discovery, pleasure, joyful community, worship, service to others, fun with others, appreciating nature, non-work-related learning, and connection to the Unity of All Being, you are on the right track!

Shabbat as a Message of Liberation

Four-fifths of the Torah deals with the liberation from Egypt and the way we heard God's voice through that liberation and its implications for how we ought to live. The central message of the Jewish people is this: the world is governed by the Force of Healing and Transformation, the force that makes possible the transformation from that which is to that which ought to be. We are not stuck in a world of oppression. We are created in the image of God and hence embody this God energy in the universe. Our task is to recreate the world so that it conforms to the highest ethical and spiritual values. Lest we forget about this during our very busy and productive weeks, we are given Shabbat, a weekly reminder of our own experience of liberation from Egypt, and hence a reminder that we should not think of ourselves as trapped by reality or forced to define ourselves by what seems possible at the moment. Instead, we should reconnect with the transformative energy in the universe --God-- and be open to struggling to change the world.