The Torah emphasizes Shabbat more than any other ritual because it provides the most profound physical, financial and emotional evidence that one is serious about a relationship with God.
I am who I am thanks to Shabbat. Due to this biblically mandated institution, I have peace of mind, a flourishing community, a great relationship with my family and a career where I traverse the country singing its praises. All this benefit for just taking a day off!
The Torah emphasizes Shabbat more than any other ritual because it provides the most profound physical, financial and emotional evidence that one is serious about a relationship with God. I discovered prioritizing Shabbat is the benchmark, the golden ticket, the minimum deposit required to open a high-yield spiritual bank account.
I was advised early on not to tell anyone when I became shomer Shabbat (fully Sabbath-observant) until I was all the way there. It took me a few years after I began learning about the intricacies of Shabbat to actually take it on 100%. I’m glad I did the baby step routine; it made every hour added to the sacred day a personal triumph.
Every week, our home is whitewashed: sheets changed, floors scrubbed and counters cleared. Even the bathrooms feature fresh flowers. We wear our best clothes, enjoy a multicourse feast in the dining room, sing songs both sacred and secular, and offer words of Torah. We also laugh together, play board games, card games and tell stories. Of course, when we have guests, we take the meal up a notch, drink l’chaims and go around the table so guests can introduce themselves and mention something special from the past week for which they are grateful. I offer a d’var Torah, usually explaining nuances in the weekly portion and how they might be relevant in our lives.
Thanks to the extensive preparation required, Shabbat is something we celebrate all week. My wife, Shira, saves her best recipes for the festive meals and spends days planning the guest list and visiting various markets for ingredients. I read the weekly Torah portion with a plethora of commentaries to remain in sync with the entire Jewish world and garnish something novel to share at my Shabbat meals.
When our kids were in elementary school, they were primed with excitement to share new insights at the table. Now they just look at me funny when I request a d’var Torah. As we prepare, we remember these weekday activities are done lichvod Shabbas (to honor Shabbat).
I must admit I binge on my work on Wednesday and Thursday nights knowing I have Shabbat coming to catch up on sleep. Before leaving for the synagogue Erev Shabbat, there’s a custom to check one’s pockets to ensure they are empty. I do this both physically and spiritually, consciously emptying worries from my cranial hard drive.
Becoming shomer Shabbat requires a temporal shift in the perspective of one’s week. This is hinted at in the laws regarding Havdalah, the ceremony with which we commemorate the Sabbath’s departure on Saturday night. One can say Havdalah until sunset on Tuesday. That’s because Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are considered to be in the “shadow” of the previous Shabbat. From Tuesday night on, we are in the zone of the upcoming Shabbat. The day of rest is not the “end” of the week, like a finish line where we break the tape and then collapse. Instead, it is the centerpiece, the pinnacle, the raison d’être.
When Shabbat and a God-focused life is the center of our week, we float on an exalted raft of blessing upon the raging river of life. We recognize that the energy of the previous Shabbat is only three days behind us and another nurturing, faith-building day is imminent.
Just imagine: Since the time of Moses, the freight train of Jewish history has been thundering along the tracks, powered by the eternal combustion of Mount Sinai, sustained by the mitzvot we observe. Tragically, in our days, we see many of the cars have derailed. There’s a supernatural reason our souls feel good when we affiliate, when we do a mitzvah, when we attend a Shabbos meal. Perhaps it’s our ancestors rallying for us behind the scenes shouting, “Go, go, go… just do it!”
Let’s get this train back on track.
Sam Glaser is a performer, composer, producer and author in Los Angeles. His book The Joy of Judaism is available on Amazon.