October 23, 2015 admin

As if

The simple words ‘Shabbat Shalom’ are so easily taken for granted that I’m not sure I’ve ever paused to rest on their meaning. Shabbat UK, is a good time to ponder their implications.
My first thought is that they don’t make sense.
‘Shalom’: Really? Is the world ever actually at peace? I think of Israel (and many parts of the world) today and wish and pray that there actually was peace on the streets, in the hearts, in the intentions of everyone there towards everyone else. Alas, it is not yet so.
‘Shabbat’: Is life like that? Can one ever truly let go of all one’s worries, one’s anxieties about uncompleted tasks, unfinished conversations, niggling issues which make it hard to sleep? If only! Even the Shulchan Aruch, acknowledges that one must conduct oneself on Shabbat ce’ilu, ‘as if’ all one’s work were done. It never is.
Yet it is precisely in the face of these realities that Shabbat has such profound value. Hasidic interpretations often fly in the face of all the rules of grammar and syntax, to point at deeper truths. One such observation sees the verb veyachal, ‘God finished [on the seventh day the work which God had done’] as deriving from clal, togetherness: ‘God brought everything and everyone together.’ Instead of feeling like frenzied particles in a mass of ceaseless interactions, Shabbat invites us to understand ourselves in the context of a greater whole. It tells us to stop seeing life as ‘what do have to do next?’ and experience it as a deeper and more embracing belonging in which all creation shares.
Shabbat changes our perspective; for one day each week it insists that the sphere of me and my intentions must not eclipse the universe of all life and its wonder. Shabbat alters our horizons. It says: ‘Look out at the trees; look up to the skies, look in to the soul’. ‘Shabbat’, writes the contemporary theologian Arthur Green, ‘is an extended meditation on the wonders of the created world and the divine presence that fills it’.
The rest which Shabbat brings is not only physical, but spiritual; ‘restoration’ might be a better term. The Torah expresses this in the remarkable word vayinafash, which we repeat every week in the Saturday morning Kiddush. It derives from nefesh, ‘life’, or, in later Hebrew, ‘soul’. On Shabbat we get our soul back, the meaning of our life is restored to us.
One can think of Shabbat in concentric circles. Time and again children tell me they love the way family and friends get together on Friday night (arguments notwithstanding). I’ve even heard them note with appreciation the rule that all electronic apparatus must be switched off. If that’s the first circle, connection with community is the second. The third, to my mind, is reconnection with nature; we’re instructed not to rush, but to walk. One notices things when one goes on foot; a robin, a spider, the colours of the October leaves.
The connection which embraces all these reconnections is the rediscovery of our own self, our soul, the part of God within us. We’re reminded that life can’t be evaluated just in terms of personal achievements, but derives its meaning and beauty from a great belonging in which we too, together with all life, are privileged to be embraced.

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