These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Shabbat by Michael Kleinman

Posted on November 2, 2010 by Eryn

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This week I rediscovered the beauty and power of Shabbat.

I learned in greater detail how Shabbat is one of the most important, if not the most important,ritual expressions of Judaism.  I already knew of its greatness, as it is listed fourth in the Ten Commandments.  What is so important about keeping Shabbat?

The essential idea is that on Shabbat we acknowledge Gd as the sole Creator and the One, besides Whom there is no other.  On the deepest level this means that on Shabbat we recognize the Truth of Unity through our deeds of abstinence.  We remember that everything is One with Gd, including ourselves.

This abstinence, by the way, is hardly ascetic in nature.  To the contrary, we typically celebrate Shabbat by praying beautiful songs together, eating delicious meals with plenty of drinking.  L’chaim!

What we are prohibited from doing is altering the creation around us: changing the physical nature of materials (apart from eating and drinking food), lighting fires and working with electronics, writing; even making plans is technically forbidden, as it is a creation in the arena of ‘social material.’

Ultimately, we are supposed to step back and imbibe the entire world as it is, without trying to alter it or make it better; to step back and remember that the world is an excellent, beautiful place, because Gd is the place of the world.  The Supreme Unity is the place; Gd is where it’s at.  On Shabbat we step back and let it All wash over us.

This idea struck me with force as I stepped into my friend’s place for a Friday night meal after davening Kabbalat Shabbat.  I was thinking about just observingjust appreciating, because I did not feel any pressure to change anything around me.  Then I glanced at a book and had an epiphany.

On Shabbat we are certainly allowed to read.  We are in fact strongly encouraged to explore the Torah, the liturgy, and Jewish/ spiritual philosophy in the high planes of our mental powers. Accessing these spiritual realities is encouraged on Shabbat because reading is not altering anything.  Rather, peering into a holy book is a way to enter into a zone that always exists.  In other words, the events of Torah and the high planes of spiritual existence and thought exist always behind the curtains of physical manifestation. Language is amazing!

And then the further idea: maybe on Shabbat, we are supposed to remember that the world is always like an open book for us to observe.  Shabbat teaches us to simply watch the people and the plants and even the walls and the synthetic things pulsing with the light of life.  When we stop trying to control things and just watch them be in unity with all Being, it is a special thing.  Then, when it is time to step up to the plate in the other six days, we can remember the experience of total observance and imbibing of reality, in order to feel like we are participating in the story of Reality rather than fighting against it.  Life becomes more epic this way.

Alan Watts says a similar thing about reading the world like a book: even when we are looking at simple paper cup, we are looking at the light of the cosmos reflected off of it.  Everything reflects everything else; every manifestation reflects the All in its own way, like a mirror.  This is undeniable.

If you had a mirror that was big enough, could you capture and reflect the light of the Unity of all existence?  No, because nothing can be greater than the Unity of All in order to reflect it; but you can expand your mind especially on Shabbat to reflect a whole lot of Him.  How special, then, is the light reflected off of the face of a human being, especially one  who is enjoying Shabbat?

Friday night was probably the most beautiful Shabbat meal I’ve ever had.  Around twenty people packed into my friend’s tiny apartment, stuffed from delicious home cooked food, buzzing off of a healthy amount of red wine, singing Shabbat songs with force and beauty and we completely lost track of time.