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More than Israel has kept the Sabbath

By Staff | Jul 8, 2020

More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel – Ahad ha-Am.

In these days of coronavirus, when we really cannot distinguish the days of the week from each other, the Sabbath stands as a beacon. It is a constant in an inconstant world, a signpost to hold onto.

A leader from the URJ spoke on a Webinar about how we are living, “in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world,” a VUCA world an acronym coined by the American military, when the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s. In such a world, questions and strategies do not always result in answers. In such a world, our religion is as relevant as it has ever been.

The Fourth Commandment clearly states the Sabbath was to be a day of rest for the Children of Israel, for their servants and for their beasts. This holiday begins at sunset, yet waking up on a Friday morning feels different from the other mornings of the week. The day is filled with precious hours, an island of special, spacious time. We are meant to stop shopping, driving, working – separating from our familiar activities. This observance reminds us of life under COVID-19. Many of us are using this new found time to learn, to call friends we have not spoken to in years, to spend time with family, to catch up on reading, to isolate, create a firewall from the rest of the world. We have much time on our hands, we have questions to which we do not have answers. This pandemic is our first such experience; the questions it provokes are infinitely complicated and largely unanswerable, as yet.

Shabbat at the end of every week is possibly the most important holiday of the entire Jewish year. Especially now we need its sacred ritual, its constancy, its comfort; we embrace its certainty. Its beacon shines a light throughout the six weekdays, becoming brighter as we approach Wednesday, then Thursday and finally Friday. Shabbat is ushered into the home by lighting and blessing candles, reciting the kiddish over wine and the motzi over the braided challah. These traditions can still be celebrated in our own homes, but added now is the Zoom screen, or Facebook or YouTube, where the congregation gather to share the service provided by Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs and his wife, Vickie, and by Cantor Murray Simon and his wife, Toby. We are reassured to see familiar faces in the small square boxes as more and more congregants join the Shabbat service. Nobody is limited by geography, many faces fill the boxes, including “snowbirds” in their northern homes for the summer. This time of rest and worship is its own tranquil reward and each week as we bid farewell to the Sabbath bride we look forward to next Friday and the Friday after that. The ritual anchors us, even as we experience shifting and disruption from the COVID-19 storm.

In an imperfect world this “palace in time” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel calls it, offers a respite, an attempt to be part of a perfect world for a short while, to keep at bay the virus and all its frightening connotations.

Source: Bat Yam Temple of the Islands