Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
Shabbat is Hebrew for Sabbath, and Shalom means peace. It is a common greeting among people of the Jewish faith, spoken on Friday evening and throughout the day on Saturday. Found in the Hebrew Bible, it denotes the seventh day, the Shabbat; the day work ceases for the purpose of rest.
When we hear the word peace we associate it with the absence of conflict but the Hebrew meaning is very different. When used as a verb it is in the context of making restitution. If a person has caused another to suffer a loss, that person must make the situation whole again. When used as a noun it has the more traditional meaning of a state of wellness or completeness.
When the words Shabbat Shalom are used together the intent is to say “may you have a peaceful day of no work” or “may you be restored to wholeness as you rest on the seventh day.” I find this greeting melodic and comforting. I am not Jewish, but am included in many of the beautiful traditions of my Israeli colleagues and this has become a favorite.
The phrase expresses the hope that each person will enjoy a day of rest; filled with peace, comfort and wellness. It can be spoken as a greeting or a farewell. When I hear it, I feel the beauty of this ancient blessing—Shabbat Shalom.
The New Normal
All of this reminds me of the way things used to be. When I was a kid Sunday was pretty laid back. We got to sleep late, had waffles or French toast for breakfast and we had to go to church. The stores weren’t open and my Mom was big on sitting around the table as a family for Sunday dinner.
It’s like this today in Israel—Shabbat is truly a day of rest. I work for an Israeli company. On my last trip I traveled to Tel Aviv on Thursday, arriving on Shabbat. This is the start of Israel’s weekend of Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a work day.
Sabbath begins Friday evening at sunset and ends on Saturday night. All Jewish days begin at sunset, based on the wording of the story of Creation in Genesis 1. At the end of the description of each day, we find the phrase: “…And there was evening, and there was morning…” Since evening is mentioned first, the ancient rabbis assumed evening came first.
This is sacred time. Non-Orthodox Jews who observe the Sabbath, such as Conservative and Reform Jews, have less restrictive views. Conservative Judaism allows the use of electricity on Shabbat as long as it does not promote any restricted Shabbat activity, although some choose not to limit the use of electricity at all.
The rules governing how the Sabbath is observed vary depending on where you fall on the conservative or reformed scale, but most people will cease
- Business transactions
- Driving or riding in cars, taxis or buses
- Shopping—stores are closed
- Using the telephone
- Using electricity, including computers, cell phones, lights, radios, television, air-conditioners and alarm clocks
- Cooking, baking or kindling a fire
- Gardening and lawn mowing
In my hotel, one elevator is pre-programmed to stop at each floor and the dining room (kosher) offers meals prepared in advance, like cold quiche and salads. To my dismay, the espresso and cappuccino machines were turned off. My colleagues, for the most part, do not check or answer email.
Not so in America. We have created a new normal, where everything is 24/7.
A Quiet Place
Forbes magazine recently wrote, “You can only work so hard and do so much in a day. Everybody needs to rest and recharge.”
Our lives have become too full and too out of balance. Somewhere along the way, we lost the essential practice of concentrated rest and restoration—of Shabbat. This is not new thinking, nor is it limited to Judaism. It is simply a mindful practice we have lost sight of.
Physicians will tell you rest is essential for the wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Our physical and mental health are dependent on it. When the body is deprived of sleep, it is unable to rebuild and recharge itself. Religious leaders will tell you rest is essential for the soul. Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity share the fundamental belief of spiritual reflection and restoration.
There are historical reminders of how important this is. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” Ovid, the Roman poet, said, “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”
When you ask people in today’s hectic culture if they intentionally set aside time for rest, most say they are too busy. Some of us don’t set aside any concentrated time for respite, claiming too many demands and deadlines. We have created a culture of urgency and ignored the need for quiet space.
The Harsh Truth
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics paid leave in the form of vacation and sick days, or paid time off in general, accounts for 77% of total compensation in private industry. Employees rarely use all the time they are allotted and companies do not allow much, if any, carry-over.
Forty-one percent of Americans don’t take their paid time off and when that happens it means employees are paying their employer to be at work. There is something very wrong with that picture. We all have tasks that need to fit into a specific time period. Even when we know we can’t accomplish everything we feel compelled to try.
The harsh truth is that life today is hectic, but we can and should grant ourselves the time and the space for mental, physical and spiritual restoration. Our balance, and therefore our wholeness, begins and ends with us.