Monday, February 15, 2010

Shabbos or a $20 bill?

Back in early 2008, when I started going to the Orthodox shul in Chicago, I was attending Shabbos dinners regularly, and I was having the time of my life. I was still trying to figure out this whole “shomer Shabbos” thing, and it was really hard – as those of you who have read my blog for the past few years know – for me to embrace and practice electronic abstinence for those 25 sacred hours each week. I’m a technophile, and my blog and e-activities were and are my life to some extent. I remember one Shabbat, that I might have even blogged about, where, after a hearty Shabbos dinner, a bunch of us were walking up Broadway together toward our respective residences when we came to an intersection wherein we found a $20 bill laying on the ground. It wasn’t windy, it wasn’t rainy, and the bill was just laying there on that busy street, staring at our group in the face. Now, because I was still in my acclimation period to being shomer Shabbos, my first (and probably inappropriate anyway) inkling was to reach down and grab up that shiny folded bill. After all, what were the chances someone was going to think “Oh crud, I dropped a $20 bill on a very busy Chicago street, I should go back and find it!” But I had to stop myself. Here I was, surrounded by a group of shomer Shabbos Jews, who were laughing and lamenting that we couldn’t touch the bill, let alone take it with us. As we stood there, a group came toward us, quizzically staring at the group of us surrounding this bill on the ground. One of the guys in our group stopped them, saying, “Hey, you guys want this $20 bill?” Of course they thought it was a ploy, some kind of trick or Candid Camera moment. We assured them it wasn’t – we’re Jews, it’s our Sabbath, we can’t touch or carry money. So they took the bill, went on their way, and we continued up the road.

I remember thinking how weird the entire episode was. There I was, two years after my Reform conversion, so far away from that lifestyle that allowed me the freedom to do what I saw fit on Shabbos that made me relaxed and rested to honor Shabbos. I was exploring and slowly adapting my life in a different way, an Orthodox way, which understood Shabbos as being less about me and more about the community, the holy day of rest, the Sabbath. There were “rules and regulations” that were above and beyond me. Picking up that money and using it toward much needed things (after all, I was a city liver making a crappy salary) wasn’t above the Sabbath – I couldn’t bend its will for my needs, I had to bend myself to its needs.

Every week, I sit on the edge of my chair through Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and by the time Thursday roles around I air a sigh of relief knowing that the next day, Friday, will bring in Shabbos. I need that day more than I ever thought I’d need something in my life. This past weekend I spent probably two-thirds of the Sabbath sleeping, because as usual, I’m a bit under the weather. I went to shul Friday night and I davened, and I ate a hearty meal with friends and future in-laws, and I slept. And throughout that, I knew I wasn’t doing justice to the Sabbath, because I was making it about me. And sometimes, we need that. But I got to thinking about the day and how I can’t fathom life without a full and complete day of rest without all of the trappings of every other day of the week. I then was wondering how the rest of the world functions without a day of complete rest. A day where you don’t get in your car, buy something, flip on the television, answer your phone, text a friend, flip switches of lights on and off, and so on. Without that separation, life seems so monotonous and unspecial, each day like the last, each day a repetition of movements and actions that come to define our every being – we live for those things which make the world tick, forgetting that moment when the world stops ticking and needs a rest. Noise, I think, is our greatest enemy, why not shut it all down for a day and see how the world continues to function without our own contributions to that bustle of mania.

I know how hard it is to shut down for a day – it took me a very, very long time to do so. It started small. I’d stop watching television, then only pop on my computer after noon on Shabbos day, or try to only eat cold food, or not shower, and so on. Eventually, it became fluid; my life became, one day a week, about Shabbos. And now? I can’t imagine anything else. I don’t know how I functioned without such a day. Of course, like everyone else, in those last minutes I’m counting down until when I can turn on my phone and check my email and plug back in. But until then? I’m free. I’m absolutely free. I’m as my ancestors were 100, 200, 500, 700, 1000 years ago. I’m living simply, appreciating what I have, without adding noise and frustration to a tumultuous world.

So give it a go. Try some silence. Start small, and watch it grow big and beautiful. I promise you won’t regret it, even when you see that $20 bill and proudly walk on by.