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December 5, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Shabbat: Our way to embrace the sacredness of time

By Rabbi Daniel Treiser Temple Bnai Israel, Clearwater

In late August, a well-known coffee chain brought back their Pumpkin Spice Lattes, a sign they said, of the return of fall.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a drug store on October 31st, Halloween. Candy and costumes were being removed from the shelves as snowflakes and tinsel were hung from the ceiling, with wishes of “Merry Christmas” floating alongside them. The countdown clock had begun: only 55 more days until Christmas.

I can’t help but feel that elements of our society are attempting to speed up time, to hurry us from one event to the next, without allowing us the opportunity to recognize or enjoy the time we do have. Rather than taking moments to acknowledge the unique nature of a particular moment, we instead find ourselves looking ahead to what comes next. The news before Thanksgiving is filled with stories of retailers who have moved “Black Friday” to THURSDAY, opening at different hours on Thanksgiving itself. We’re not even given a chance to enjoy a quintessential American holiday imbued with meaning and purpose that originates in our Jewish traditions of expressing gratitude to God, without already starting to think about what’s next!

Society’s approach is contrary to our Jewish understanding of time. As the great 20th century theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “Judaism is a religion of time, aimed at the sanctification of time.” (The Sabbath, pg. 8) From our earliest origins, we understood that time has profound importance and is imbued with meaning. The very first time the word ‘holy’ is used in the Torah is to describe a unit of time, “God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy.” (Gen. 2:3) Our ancient major festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, are each also referred to as z’manim or sacred times (Time of our Redemption, Revelation of Torah and Rejoicing, respectively.) We are taught through the customs of our rituals to be attuned to the flow of time: one of the ways that mitzvot are categorized in the Talmud is whether or not they are “time-bound,” having to be performed at a specific moment in time.

In our daily lives, we may lament not having enough time to do all that we need to do. Getting children to school, getting ourselves to work, bringing kids to the multitude of after-school activities, getting home to have dinner, trying to take care of our homes, trying to take care of ourselves, trying to spend time with family and friends – the demands on our time seem neverending. And of course, we try to slow down the passage of time as it impacts our bodies and our minds as we age.

So in our own ways, we try to control time, turning to technology and “time-saving devices,” smart-phones and computers and more. Technology is the blessing AND the curse, helping us save some time, but distracting us with more and more ways to waste it as well. We use creams, pills and surgeries to slow the aging process, to make us look as if time stood still for us. Yet we know, ultimately, that time will catch up.

Rather than fighting the flow of time, our Jewish heritage teaches us to embrace it and make it sacred. The most powerful tool we are given is one that comes week after week: the gift of Shabbat, what Heschel called a “palace in time.” (Between God and Man, p. 218) For some Shabbat is a day for fulfilling the biblical cessation from work, engaged instead in prayer and contemplation. For some Shabbat is a moment filled with ritual and customs: the white tablecloth, the soft glow of the candles, the sweet taste of wine and challah. For some it is an opportunity to reunite with loved ones, the one night a week the family sits down to dinner together. And for others it is the moment to celebrate being a part of a kehilah kedoshah, a sacred community, commemorating Shabbat with services at a synagogue.

Whether we make minor changes to our routine or radical transformations of our lives, what we need is a way to make the Sabbath a unique, sacred time in our lives, because we need Shabbat. Shabbat brings order to the chaos of our lives. It can be a way to cope with the stresses, an opportunity to grasp moments of peaceful living. Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan taught, “An artist cannot be continually wielding his brush. He must stop at times in his painting to freshen his vision of the object, the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas. Living is also an art… the Sabbath represents those moments when we pause in our brushwork to renew our vision of the object.” (The Meaning of God, 1937, p. 59)

In the midst of a society that confounds the natural passage of time, we need to seek out regularity, to embrace the flow of time, to recognize the purpose of each moment. And we are so blessed to have the opportunity to celebrate the passage of time with Shabbat. As we celebrate Hanukkah, perhaps this is the greatest gift we can give to our families and ourselves.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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