How to (Really) Keep Shabbos
By Braha Bender
Ah, Shabbos. Also known as Shabbat. The wonderful day every week when a Jew gets to sit back, take a deep breath, and remember that on a fundamental level everything is being taken care of by Somebody else.
You know that feeling? When you’re swamped at work and someone competent comes along and relieves the pressure? Suddenly, you have plenty of time and breathing space. Suddenly, you’re not being chased by deadlines. It’s better than winning the lottery. Time is priceless, and that is what Shabbos gives us: time.
Time for family, time for friends, time for ourselves. Ah, Shabbos. What’s not to love?
The trick is, God gave us Shabbos, but we have to receive the gift. How?
How God Keeps Shabbos
A good way to learn how to do something well is to watch the pros. God is the ultimate Pro, and after creating the world in six days, He kept Shabbos. How did God keep Shabbos?
“By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” (Genesis 2:2) From a generic secular viewpoint, this verse isn’t so hard to understand. Many mistakenly believe that God created the world and then walked away to let the universe run on its own with occasional pokes and prods in the right direction.
However, the truth is that God never walked away. Every moment of existence is an entirely new creation. Think of it like stills in a movie. Each still is its own work of art. So is every moment in creation. As you read this, the moment is being created anew...and here’s a new one! And here’s another one! Second by second, moment by moment, God creates the world anew, so what does the Torah mean when it says that He abstained from work on the seventh day? If He abstained for a single moment, we would all go poof!
That is the secret of Shabbos. The truth is, you can’t believe everything you read (at least not at face value): God did create something on the seventh day. He created “abstaining from work”. What does that mean?
When you think of the words “abstaining from work”, what comes to mind? Maybe a La-Z-boy sofa, a big, cold glass of Coke, and a fat, new, glossy magazine to read... But you can do that any day. That’s not particular to Shabbos.
Shabbos brings a much more refined gift than that. Shabbos brings not only physical relaxation, but spiritual relaxation. You know all those professional pressures and responsibilities that fill your life six days a week? The Coke and the glossy magazine might help you run away from them for a few minutes, but they will still be there at the back of your mind. On Shabbos you can really let them go.
You know the constant stress you are under to make enough money to feed your family, let alone yourself? On Shabbos you can really just let it go. How? By remembering that God is in the picture. He takes care of you! The entire point of all your work is to live a healthy, happy life in His service, and He is totally behind that. And that’s worth celebrating – every week.
The abstention from work that God did on the seventh day wasn’t a passive rest. He didn’t collapse in His virtual La-Z-boy and grab a drink. God gave the world the gift of Shabbos. “Shabbos rest” was the crowning achievement of the many beautiful and wondrous creations that had been brought into being until that point, and it put them all in context.
“Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work; but the seventh day is Shabbos to Hashem, your God...” (Exodus 20:9-10)
But How Do I Do It?
“It’s easy for God,” you tell me. “After all, He’s God. He is perfectly capable of accomplishing and completing all His work in six days, but tell that to my boss! I leave the office on Friday afternoon with memos flying out of my ears...”
We all do. As long as they are alive, most people have to sing for their supper. But there is an underlying truth that most people forget, which is that, hard as they may work, the only One in control of the outcome is the Almighty. We can work until steam is coming out of our ears and our hands have turned blue, but the Almighty still rules the world.
He is the One who gives us the capacity to do our work (tried breathing without His help lately?) and He is the One who decides what the result will be of all our efforts. Oh, and a small but important detail most people also forget: He loves us unconditionally and everything He gives us, whether painful or pleasurable, is for our benefit. God is on your side.
“Abstaining from work” on Shabbos doesn’t just mean turning off the computer monitor. It means turning off the computer monitor in your mind. It means that, come sunset on Friday afternoon, you fully embrace the fact that everything you could have done up until that point is done, and now you’re in God’s hands. And those are mighty loving hands. It is a totally different mindset than the weekday, working-man way of thinking.
As obvious as this fact is, that God rules the world and takes care of us, it is not so easy to remember, so God conveniently provided us with a concept-integration program uniquely designed to help us internalize this most relieving of concepts. There are 39 general categories of exercises with hundreds of detailed real-life applications. Think of it as a theme-park ride. Step inside these activities, and your day is moulded into an entirely unique experience, a world carved out of your everyday world, where different rules and different thinking applies. Welcome to the Shabbos ride. You never know, you might even become a different person (a much more relaxed person).
The Bottom Line
The most important thing to remember while doing all the exercises is that the focus is on spiritual relaxation: let go, let God. Don’t think about work, don’t think about stress, and let in the wonderful things those aspects of life tend to overshadow: the friendship shared with a spouse, the beauty of your children, the pleasure of your friends, and most of all, the great love of the Almighty that provides you with all of these things and so much more.
Getting down to brass tacks, one suggestion the sages give is to fake it ‘til you make it. Just pretend your work is done. Pretend you have time for the most important things in life, like family, friends, and a meaningful relationship with God. After all, you’re not lying to yourself. You do have time. It’s called Shabbos. Better than winning the lottery.