Saturday and Shabbat

There are two warring ways of looking at Saturdays. The secular way uses the power of "diversion". The religious way uses the power of "amplification". That does not mean that religious Jews crank up the loudspeakers. And it does not mean that secular people make wrong turns. Both of these approaches are an attempt to achieve the most elusive goal, human happiness. Let's look at them one by one.

Diversion, simply put, keeps someone in a state of relative calm by diverting their attention from more distressing things. Most of the week, we are diverted from our existential questions by the practical necessities of daily life. We go to work, we go to school, we run errands and so forth. We don't have time to think about things of a deeper nature. We don't walk around asking ourselves, "what is the meaning of our lives?". We simply don't have time, since we get diverted from those questions.

Comes Saturday, and there is less to divert us. So we find other pleasant things, usually more pleasant than work and errands, to do the job. It could be those Saturday morning cartoons, or a hiking trip, or a concert or trip to the beach. All of these things are pleasant, and they divert our attention from the quiet gnawing questions about our lives.

Sometimes, diversion is extremely healthy and necessary. Too much stress, too little enjoyment, are extremely unhealthy. Everybody requires a vacation, everybody requires time to refuel, to laugh and enjoy. Sometimes, though, it is an avoidance technique to keep us from doing things that are very important for us. At an extreme, substance addictions are a form of unhealthy diversion. A person can't ask themselves hard questions if they are completely blasted. And by not asking those questions, their lives are not improved.

The religious approach of the Sabbath, amplification, starts inside the person. Instead of running away from meaning of life issues, we amplify them. Diversions are, by and large, forbidden on the Sabbath. No television, no trips to the beach. Instead, it is a synagogue service where the focus is a reading from the Bible. It is a Friday night meal where the whole family eats together and talks together. It is taking a walk with your spouse on a Saturday afternoon. It is meditating, it is singing, it is feeling at one with the world.

I tend to work a lot. I work until very late at night. I hate going to sleep without having finished what I had planned for the day. As a result, I do feel more stress at times. I can tell you that without Shabbat, I am sure my health would suffer. Shabbat forbids me to do all that work, it forces me to rejoice in my own existence. It forces me to rejoice in God's world. It forces me to amplify the important things in life, such as tradition, family, spirituality.

A couple of years ago I was preparing my first musical theater production. I had never imagined how much work and stress would go into it. I literally worked until a few minutes before Shabbat, and started again as soon as it was over. If not for those 25 hours of sanity, I really feel my health could have been compromised. Not only that, it was during those 25 hours that I was able to stop and enjoy life.

I guess that's the difference in approach. The approach of diversion is the approach of enjoying the Saturday morning cartoon. The approach of amplification is the approach of enjoying life.

Judaism wants us to make the Sabbath day holy, protected from all diversions, and discover the deep joy and peace of the Shabbat.

Related posts

Published by



Just another HTMLy user