All Shabbos, All the Time
by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
When we speak of the World to Come, it is referred to as Yom She’kulo Shabbat–The Day That is Entirely Shabbat. This past Shabbat, my second consecutive house-ridden Shabbat, I thought to myself, we now have a full week that is very much Shabbat-like. And perhaps, contained in that, is some of the lessons that God wants us to gain from this bizarre, unprecedented situation.
If a holiday is observed annually, then its message is one that can be sufficiently internalized through this once a year experience. The message of Shabbat, on the other hand, must be so fundamental to our life as Jews that we need to hear it each and every week…
Of the many lessons that Shabbat contains, I would like to focus on a few that are particularly relevant to the challenging times that we now find ourselves.
Shabbat gives us the ‘muscle-memory’ to prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare some more and then STOP. You’ve got to get it all in before sunset because at that moment, we come to a full stop. Whatever you’ve prepared, you will have on Shabbat–whatever you didn’t quite get around to was an opportunity missed. Irreplaceable. And that, of course, is the lesson of our lives. We all feel we are healthy, invincible and plan decades up ahead. And that leads to a lot of procrastinating, delaying and not fully prioritizing. But life is fragile. A miniscule virus can turn things upside down and can tragically end the lives of people who just a few days ago were strong and vibrant. Shabbat teaches us to seize the moments we have, not put things off, to fully live and be alive! Maximize those relationships we are blessed with, utilize the opportunities that we so fortunately have, and be sure to finish our preparations before the sun sets.
Shabbat also teaches us to focus not on what we do but on who and what we are. Years ago we had a Shabbat guest and in the course of conversation, she told us about her brother. I asked her what her brother does. She responded that he’s an amazing person–he volunteers at an orphanage, at a nursing home and at a senior center! I have to admit that in my mind I was thinking the words: gainfully unemployed. Without missing a beat she continued: And he’s a very successful lawyer. Listening to her I was truly humbled. She was right! The kindness and generosity of spirit is what aptly described her brother. That’s what he is. That’s who he is. The rest is what he does… It’s important to do what we do with resourcefulness, honesty and integrity, but that is what we do, not who or what we are.
Shabbat takes us out of the rigor of the workweek. At the end of the six days, all of our work is done. The focus is no longer on what we do but on who and what we are. It reminds us that we are human beings, not human doings! Shabbat emphasizes that I’m a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, a community member, a part of the Jewish people, a member of humanity, a child of God created in His image–that is who and what I am regardless of how I support myself.
And this crisis gives us Shabbat all week long. A Yom She’kulo Shabbat–A week that is entirely Shabbat. We are home, with our spouses, our children. We spend time trying to work remotely but then we have to get back to real work… We have to deal with our family. With patience, love, compassion and understanding. We have to get back to work to make sure that our neighbors, the elderly, the vulnerable have what they need. That I’m shopping responsibly concerned that people whom I don’t even know should also find eggs, milk and, may I dare say, toilet paper on the store shelves.
And Shabbat, the pinnacle day of creation drives home the point that we are creations. And we must recognize our place. It’s amazing how our world has been turned upside down! Mankind has been humbled from the lofty state of control and power that we felt we owned, to recognizing the fragility of mankind and all that we have built. On Shabbat we abstain from melacha–creative activity through which we change, control and redirect the natural world. We are now in a true state of kulo Shabbat–All Shabbat all the time. We have been humbled. We realize how powerless we truly are. We cannot change, control, redirect the natural world. We recognize that there is a Creator and we have been created. But there is a purpose in that creation. There must be. And it’s a purpose that only we can achieve. Otherwise, the Creator would not have included us in this creation. Shabbat energizes us to make our mark as it ensures that we recognize our humble place.
These Yamim She’kulo Shabbat–Multiple Shabbat days give us an unprecedented opportunity to focus on who we are, what we are meant to be, and the time gifted to us to accomplish that. And let’s hope that these lessons will be internalized and last far past the present crisis.
Rabbi Ciner is the spiritual leader of Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine.