In the Torah, God instructs Israel, “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep Shabbat, to observe Shabbat throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant” (Exodus 31:16). We are told that, after six days of Creation, God rested. Thus, according to Jewish tradition, we should all have a day of rest in our week as God did.
I plan on being a congregational rabbi, so much of my time will be spent bringing a meaningful prayer experience to my congregation. Such an experience typically involves a Friday night and Saturday morning worship service, and perhaps a Saturday morning Torah study. As a student rabbi, my duties at my pulpit revolve almost entirely around Shabbat. Most of my interaction with congregants takes place between Friday evening and Saturday morning. Thus, my day off is typically not the day of Shabbat. A day of rest, however, whenever that may be, is very important. We each need a day of rest.
The spirit of Shabbat is to rest. We are supposed to stop and appreciate the holy day set aside for us. We are supposed to stop and smell the flowers and recharge our batteries so we can face the rest of the week.
Last summer, I had the honor of working at K. K. Bene Israel Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati fellow, my duties included strengthening curricula, creating media for the Temple’s website, and leading Shabbat worship. My favorite moments came from my interaction with congregants on Shabbat. It was a priceless experience to lead families and long-time congregants through a meaningful worship experience on Friday night, and to guide a group of excited, willing learners through Torah study on Saturday mornings. I may have been working on Shabbat, but it was all so enjoyable, it could hardly have been considered work. Plus, learning and living Jewishly is my way to relax, so I can easily say I kept Shabbat last summer.
Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” (Mishnah Avot 1:14). This phrase stresses the importance of doing what is right for ourselves. Each of us is responsible for creating a bit of space in our week to rest. We each need a day on which we can confidently say, “It’s my day off. It can wait.”
It is important for each of us to create a Shabbat, if not the Shabbat, so we can have enough energy and focus during the rest of our week. We should keep, or protect, the sacred notion that all people need a day of rest. In this way, we, the people of Israel, can keep the spirit of Shabbat as a day of rest “throughout [our] generations, for an everlasting covenant.”
Adam Bellows is currently serving as student rabbi at Temple Beth El in Flint, MI.