Shabbat: Mid-week, Mid-moment

[For the Ner Shalom Malakh, July 2009]

I'm not certain I have yet been as much at a loss as I am this month in deciding what to write for the Malakh. It's not that I don't have things on my mind - there is always quite a racket in there. And it all seems to be rattling at equal volume. Not just the "expansive" thoughts I like to try to put down here, but the mundane ones - the car repairs, the airport pickups, the bill paying, the stolen moment for a ukulele lesson, the simchas, the worries, all of it.

How does any one of us ever make sense of it all? How do we ever arrive at or maintain an expansive moment under the crushing pressure of daily, monthly, yearly life?

I think there's an obvious Jewish answer to this and a less obvious Jewish answer to this. Both answers are: Shabbat.

Shabbat has, all our lives, been offered to us as a model of balance - separating the melody from the noise, the bigness from the smallness, the breath from the breathlessness. But we've come to abandon Shabbat, conceiving of it as a day ripped out of the calendar, in which work-like activity is banned. And this often doesn't fit the lives we lead.

But we might think of Shabbat differently. My teacher, Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg, once described Shabbat as a great, powerful flow of holiness. The seventh day is merely a vessel to catch and hold some of that holiness. In his words, "If you are standing at Niagara Falls and you are thirsty, it helps to have a cup."

So perhaps where we get snagged is in conceiving of Shabbat as being an absence of something, instead of a fullness of something else. There is a hum of holiness underlying everything we do. The trick is, from time to time, to be aware of it. The seventh day is one invitation to do that. But it needn't be the only one. What if we became aware of Shabbat in the middle of a busy weekday, and let it fill us? Just for an instant? The word shabbat, coming from lishbot - to cease - is also related to lashevet - to sit. What if, at a random moment in a jam-packed day like the ones I've been having, we took a moment just to sit? Sit. Breathe. Be aware of the elegant largeness of all of this and that hum of holiness coursing through you.

It could be (as it is at this moment for me) a Wednesday afternoon, and it would be Shabbat. Take a moment like that now. Whatever day of the week it is: Shabbat shalom.