Friday, September 9, 2011


I recently observed a friend explain Shabbat to a guest a Hillel's first Havdalah service of the year. "On the seventh day of creation," she recited, "G-d rested, and so Shabbat is a day of rest." I agreed with her, of course, and added a few details about the week beginning on Sunday and whatnot. For me, Shabbat is indeed a break from the week, at least during Friday-night services. There's singing, and talking, and eating, and it's all very relaxing and meditative. Later this month, however, Hillel will be co-sponsoring an event just before Shabbat which I think actually highlights a more important meaning for the weekly holiday.

The "Day of Service," or "Reach Out!" is the product of collaboration with the Leonard Carmichael Society and Repair the World (Hebrew: תיקון עולם‎ - tikkun olam). In short, it's an opportunity to spend a Friday doing volunteer work with a bunch of Tufts friends. Where does Shabbat comes in? We'll get there.

During weekly Shabbat services (Reform, incidentally), there comes a point known as the "silent Amidah."  Amidah means "standing," and the silent part is reserved for people to quietly or mentally conduct a series of prayers. Of course, having never heard many of these aloud, and not being a speaker of Hebrew myself, I find that it takes a great deal of time and effort to work through them. And to what end? Often, I prefer to read through the English translations, less because I wish to finish on time with others, but more out of a desire to understand what we are all saying.

Having performed this version of silent reflection for many weeks, I have settled on a favorite passage from the available collection:

The Holiness of Shabbat
Hebrew: קדושת היום - kedushat hayom

Disturb us, Adonai, ruffle us from our complacency;
Make us dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with the peace of ignorance,
the quietude which arises from a shunning of the horror, the defeat,
the bitterness and the poverty, physical and spiritual, of humans.

Shock us, Adonai, deny to us the false Shabbat which gives us
the delusions of satisfaction amid a world of war and hatred;

Wake us, O God, and shake us
from the sweet and sad poignancies rendered by
half-forgotten melodies and rubric prayers of yesteryears;

Make us know that the border of the sanctuary
is not the border of living
and the walls of Your temples are not shelters
from the winds of truth, justice and reality.

Disturb us, O God, and vex us;
let not Your Shabbat be a day of torpor and slumber;
let it be a time to be stirred and spurred to action.

Here we have a prayer for the Sabbath, but certainly not of the traditional kind. This prayer isn't acknowledging a day of rest so much as a day of action, or a Day of Service. We are reminded that Shabbat is not a time to "shun" the horrors of the world, to sit in "ignorance" or "quietude" with "delusions of satisfaction" - these are the "false Shabbat."

Shabbat is indeed a time for reflection, but not only on one's own life, concerns, or blessings, but also that of others. There are so many issues that surround us: poverty, hatred, pollution, injustice, and so on. Perhaps in taking a break from the mundane routine of our daily lives, we are meant to not simply rest on Shabbat, but to also connect to our communities and our world. We are right to take a break, but not from living.

Shabbat is no time to sleep, but to awaken; no time to escape the world, but to reengage with it. To be reminded of that on a weekly basis is but one of many reasons I continue and enjoy trekking over to Hillel on Friday evenings at 6:00. With luck, an even more profound inspiration will bring others to their service event later this month.

For more information on Jewish practices on or off campus, I am always happy to talk. Joining me for a Friday night (especially for those who have never experienced such an event) is encouraged; I will be happy to explain as we go along.


  1. Excellent - want to speak at Beth Sholom?
    ♥ MOM

  2. Yasher Koach. One day, say about 10 years or so from now, you need to join the National Young Leadership Cabinet... you'll love it!


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