It is always wonderful to see so many of you here on Yom Kippur. As we begin what is considered the holiest of days, we treat ourselves a little differently tonight.
On most days we take good care of our bodies. On Yom Kippur we fast, refraining from food and water for our insides, and soap and water for our outsides. Yom Kippur is a day of abstention.
Most days we wear whatever we find in the closet. Tonight we pay attention to how we look. Some of us wear white, some will not wear leather, some even wear a kittel, the traditional garb worn on only three occasions: under the Chuppah when getting married, in the coffin when we are buried, and under the lights of our sanctuary when greeting God on Yom Kippur. Many of us will wear a Tallit and Kippah, perhaps for the only day this year. Yom Kippur is a day of mindfulness of our appearance.
Most days we find ourselves focused on the events of the present. We focus on our immediate goals and how we can accomplish them as fast as possible so we can move on to the next goal. But not Yom Kippur. Tonight we reflect upon the past. We take stock of our shortcomings and we pray for a better year than the year that just ended. We think carefully on how we can improve ourselves to make this year a year of blessing. We apologize for our past misdeeds, and we work to improve our bad habits and imperfections. Kol Nidre is a night of reflection, while Yom Kippur is a day of repentance.
Most days we spend our time at work. On this High Holy Day we spend time with family and community. We turn off our cell phones and disconnect from the professional world. We focus on our spiritual gains and we pray. We spend our time in synagogue instead of the office or classroom. For 364 days out of the year, we focus on the routine; but on Yom Kippur we focus upon the Divine inside us all.
You know, Yom Kippur is kind of like Shabbat!
In fact, the Torah describes Yom Kippur as a day of complete rest: Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. On Yom Kippur we read Torah and Haftarah just like on Shabbat, and the Haftarah includes this pericope:
If you restrain your foot because of Shabbat, from pursuing your business on my holy day; and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable; and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own business, nor speaking of vain matters; Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth... (Isa 58:13-14).
The reminder from Isaiah to “call the Sabbath "delight," that we read on Yom Kippur helps remind us of the similarities the two holidays have. On Shabbat we rest to recharge from the week and take in the holiness that the day has to offer. On Yom Kippur we take a break from the year and try to focus completely on the holiness that we have inside us, yearning to come out.
Where Shabbat does differ from Yom Kippur, though, is in oneg Shabbat, the joy of Shabbat. On Shabbat we enjoy Challah, wine, meals with family and friends, a mid-day schluff, and of course the double mitzvah… (You laugh, but it’s in the Talmud!) On Shabbat we increase our bodily pleasure so that we can increase the pleasures of our souls. We are told to remember Shabbat, honor Shabbat, and keep it holy. Like on Yom Kippur we are not to work on Shabbat, but with a slightly different impetus.
When Moses explains the holiday calendar to the Israelites in the book of Leviticus, Yom Kippur is described as Shabbat shabbaton lachem, the Sabbath of Sabbaths for you (23:32). Earlier in that same chapter, Saturday is called Shabbat ladonai elohecha, Sabbath for Adonai your God (ibid. 3). The Day of Repentance is a personal day of reflection. So Yom Kippur is a day for you, for us. We focus on our personal sins, trying to improve ourselves, making ourselves better for the following year. We are encouraged to approach people we may have wronged and ask forgiveness. One on one, a personal connection. A day for you.
Shabbat, on the other hand, is a public, communal day of celebration. We gather for prayers, for meals, for study. We spend time with our family and friends. We have fun, but this fun is not frivolous. The joy and laughter that Shabbat brings is an expression of the holiness within every member of the community. By increasing each other's joy, we are illuminating the Divine Presence that exists within each of us. We might not be aware as we celebrate how holy we are behaving, but when we celebrate Shabbat we are enjoying time with our community that, in turn, allows us to connect with God. Every Friday night as the sun sets, we sanctify a moment in time that serves as a declaration of our faith in God.
In the 2nd chapter of Genesis we first hear of Shabbat. God spends the first chapter of the Torah creating. Light and darkness, earth, water, sun, moon, stars, plants, and animals. In six days God creates heaven and earth. On the seventh day God rests.
Genesis 2:3 explains, “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation.”
And there, in the second chapter of the Torah, God creates the weekend.
I have taught before about an interesting trait of our secular calendar. With the calendar we measure time through planetary movement. In one day the earth rotates on its axis once. In one month the moon revolves around the earth once. In one year the earth revolves around the sun once. And yet there is nothing in the cosmos that delineates a week. We have to work out weeks on our own. The week is the only calendrical measurement of time that is not determined by movement of astrological objects. The only one!
That means we can observe days, months, and years. There is ebb and flow to them. It gets dark and light. The moon grows and disappears. The planet gets colder and warmer. Even in Southern Califonria we can see and feel these units of time expressed physically in the universe.
We cannot observe a week happening. No star or planet makes it clear that a week has gone by. We have to pay attention to know what day it is. How many of us went back to work on the Tuesday after Labor Day and said, “Today feels like a Monday!” Even with the calendar in front of us it is sometimes hard to keep track.
This is because the week is not planetary time…it is God-time. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. A week is a Torah-mandated measurement of time!
So celebrating Shabbat becomes a declaration of our faith in God. We stop working because God stopped. And God stopped because God wants us to stop.
My friend Brian joined the US Army after he graduated college. Years later he would describe with great agony some of the perils of Basic Training. Of course, in Basic he had to do a lot of push-ups. He told me that unlike the movies they didn’t have to do 50 or 100 push-ups at a time. They had to do push-ups to Muscle Failure. His drill sergeant would make them push until they were unable to push any more. They would fall on their faces, exhausted, and do it again the next day.
This is exactly how many of us work in our professional lives. We push and push until we cannot so much as open an email, then we drive home, collapse, wake up, and start all over again.
If we keep it up we will cause problems worse than muscle failure. We will have mental and spiritual failure. Eventually something has to give. If we refuse to take time, time will find a way to catch up to us.
In his book The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the daily human quest as a conquering of space. Heschel describes how we build things and acquire things, and these things take up space in the world. We understand our achievements through how we have used our space. Look at what I have built, look at what I own, look at what I can buy. Often we conquer space at the expense of time. We use our days to the fullest of their capacity. In conquering space, we lose time.
Heschel eloquently calls Shabbat a palace built out of time. I love this phrase. The metaphor reminds us that Shabbat stands separate because we stop taking over the space in the world. It also implies that Shabbat is a time for lavishing ourselves with comfort and tranquility. A palace is a grand place that serves as a beacon to travelers--we live here. Inside you will find protection, comfort, and friends. On Shabbat we find the same. We are protected from the need to keep working and moving, we are comforted by the rest and relaxation, and we do it all as a community.
The Torah commands us not to work on Shabbat. Outside of the restriction against kindling a fire, it does not teach us much more than that. Honor it, remember it, sanctify it, and don’t work. What does that mean?
In the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat lists 39 malachot—39 activities that are not allowed on Shabbat. No plowing, grinding, tearing, writing, baking, cutting, lighting a fire, etc etc. You can probably find a complete list on Wikipedia. These 39 malachot are derived from the work done making bread, making clothing, tanning animal hides, and building the Temple. In strict practice today you either find behavior tailored to allow following the rules, or acrobatic manipulation of the law.
For example, in Israel most hotels place what looks like a mini-package of tissues in guest rooms on Friday afternoon. These are not for blowing your nose, but for use after relieving yourself. Pre-measured toilet paper prevents the observant Jew from tearing on Shabbat.
Some people will put timers on their lights, water heaters, and televisions. That way they can derive the benefits from light, hot water, and their favorite program without actually flipping the switch on Shabbat.
Perhaps we think of these as silly and/or hypocritical. Why waste material and packaging just to not rip toilet paper on Shabbat? Isn’t being environmentally conscious more important to us today? And a timer seems like a waste of energy. If we are not home, the lights still go on. More to the point, why is it ok to use the electricity if it is not ok to turn it on?
These manipulations of everyday activities are not done to skirt halachah. The special toilet paper, Shabbat timers and elevators, walking from place to place, not carrying things, and everything we do or do not do on Shabbat serve to make Shabbat special. This is sanctifying Shabbat—making it Holy.
Perhaps this is not what works for us, but to the Ultra-Observant Jew it makes perfect sense. We might hear about Shabbat toilet paper, Shabbat lamps that cover the bulb, Shabbat elevators that stop on every floor, Shabbat timers for electricity, and even an eruv--a border around a community that allows for carrying--and think that they are silly. Why spend all this time retending to follow the rules when you are actually doing everything you can to break them by finding loopholes in halachah? Why not just admit that this is not a Shabbat restriction that is meaningful to you anymore? They would answer, because we are making Shabbat holy. Our task, then, is to find ways to make Shabbat meaningful for us. If we are going to drive and turn on our lights and use electricity, it becomes more significant when we, as Heschel puts it, stop taking up space and start building with time.
In November, 2007 at the URJ Biennial convention in San Diego, Rabbi Eric Yoffe, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, offered some of his thoughts on Shabbat and how to make it Holy again. Shabbat worship is an integral part of our week. In Rabbi Yoffe’s words,
Reform Jews [keep] Shabbat because they need Shabbat. In our 24/7 culture, the boundary between work time and leisure time has been swept away, and the results are devastating…. For our stressed-out, sleep-deprived families, the Torah’s mandate to rest looks relevant and sensible. Our tradition does not instruct us to stop working altogether on Shabbat; after all, it takes a certain amount of effort to study, pray, and go to synagogue. Be we are asked to abstain from the work that we do to earn a living, and instead to reflect, to enjoy, and to take a stroll through the neighborhood…. We are asked to stop running around long enough to see what God is doing.
He explained the centrality of Shabbat worship to Judaism, especially to Reform Judaism. We have a need to focus less on the restrictions of Shabbat, and more on the joy, celebration, and worship.
When I think back to some of the most special Shabbat celebrations in my life, they are almost always in Israel. My friends and I would spend the day preparing part of a Shabbat meal, then we would meet at someone's home and walk to a synagogue from there. After services we would walk back, sit down at the Shabbat table, and take turns doing the brachas, the prayers before the meal. We would start with the candles, move to the wine, and bless the challah and the meal. After we ate we would do a raucous Birkat Hamazon, and that would begin the zmirot, the singing. Most of us were camp people, so we would sing camp songs, other Jewish songes we knew, and generally have a great time singing together in celebration of Shabbat. We would spend the evening together, chatting, singing, and enjoying our time together until we got tired and went home. On Saturday morning we would all go in separate directions, some of us preferring a more Orthodox Saturday morning, while others liked the Reform services. We all spent time enjoy Shabbat our way.
In 1991 the CCAR Press published Gates of Shabbat, a Guide for Observing Shabbat. In this book, Mark Dov Shapiro describes three types of Shabbat worshippers, three examples of how to take a break on Shabbat and make it holy. He calls them The Walker, The Museumgoer, and The Painter. The Walker serves as the more traditional Shabbat observer. He spends no money and uses no technology. He will go to the park or take his canoe out on a local river. He will picnic at the beach or study with a group of friends. The Walker “puts aside the so-called necessities of modern life and uses Shabbat… [to do] something positive through thought, leisure, and friendship….”
The Museumgoer also stays away from work on Shabbat. No chores or errands are allowed, but she is willing to drive and spend money, though she puts limits on how her money will be spent. For example, she will not go shopping on Shabbat, but she will drive to and pay the admission for a day at a museum. Shabbat for the Museumgoer is made holy through freedom from necessity. Her activities increase in holiness when she shares them with her family and friends. Of course, these activities can all be done on a day that is not Shabbat. For Reform Jews, what makes these activities special for us is the intent as we do them. We honor Shabbat by refreshing and giving new life to our soul.
The Painter is a very different example of a Shabbat observer. God stopped the work of creation on Shabbat and rested. We are to follow God’s example with our rest. Painting can be considered a form of creating, so how does the Painter justify his Shabbat ritual? He uses the book of Deuteronomy, in which Shabbat is described as a reminder of our liberation from Egypt. Therefore, it makes sense to the Painter to allow himself to feel liberated as well. An activity like painting, even though it is not halachically shabbes-dik, can be the perfect restful antidote to the meetings and appointments of the work week. As long as the activity is not something we get paid for during the rest of the week, engaging in some form of art allows the mind to relax while the hands move the brush.
There are many ways to honor Shabbat and sanctify our day of rest. The Walker, the Museumgoer, and the Painter all have ways of making Shabbat a personal experience. While they may or may not be observing the Talmudic restrictions against the 39 malachot, they are creating sacred time. They are making Shabbat meaningful. I know that Shabbat is meaningful to many of you here at CBT. We have talked about your Shabbat rituals. I know that some of you turn off the news and turn on music. Some of you go out of your way to eat every meal on Shabbat with your family. A friend of mine, who absolutely loves cookies and cake and had to stop eating them during the week, chooses one treat during Shabbat oneg, and that is the only sweet he eats all week. For him, Shabbat is literally time for sweetness.
If something happens to you on a particular Shabbat that makes you aware of its holiness, tell us. If there is something that you do on Shabbat that makes it a Palace in Time, send me an email describing your ritual. If it is something unique, perhaps I will share it in a weekly email. Shabbat is about the community, and we want to involve as many people as possible in our joy of Shabbat.
Let me start by sharing with you what happens in my family on Shabbat. On Friday nights, as we gather around the table, we are enveloped in an aura of pure....chaos. Natalie and I are both rushig in different directions trying to get to our respective Shabbat services. Our children, feeling the energy emanating from us, tend to jitter with energy they don't know what to do with. It takes everything we have to keep them still enough for the four blessings that precede the meal, and then we eat in a rush, half standing and half sitting as we shovel into our mouths and swallow. If there is a Family Shabbat at one of our congregations we add to the struggle, trying to get the kids washed, changed, and fed in a mad, Flight-of-the-Bumblebee frenzy around the house that leaves us feeling anything but peaceful as Shabbat begins.
I imagine we are not alone in this. Families have told me throughout the year that it is not easy to get everyone ready for Family Shabbat, and that 7:00 is too late for them to get here, or too early for them to be ready by then. If they only had a little more time....
So this year we are taking Shabbat back. Starting November 7, our Family Shabbat will get flipped on its head. Family Shabbat will continue to be a come-as-you-are, casual Shabbat experience. We will keep the musical energy and the camp-like melodies in place. We will keep the story-instead-of-sermon MO that we have built over the past year. But we will change the schedule. Only a little bit, but this little shift will allow all of our families to enjoy our time together on Shabbat.
Instead of rushing to CBT after dinner, come before. We are going to move Family Shabbat services back to 6:30. Our goal is to keep service under an hour, which will give families time to have dinner after services instead of before. For those of us who cannot wait that long to eat, we will offer a pre-Shabbat oneg from 6 to 6:30. This will be a small offering, nothing major. Wine and cheese, juice and veggies, just a little something to tide us over until dinner after services. As often as we can, we will have Shabbat dinner together, in the Social Hall, immediately after services. These will either be pot-luck, where everyone who wants to have dinner with us will have to bring something to share, or we will ask for a donation to offset the cost of catering a Shabbat dinner. For the first dinner, on November 7, we will be catering. Watch for the November bulletin, and of course emails and the web site, for details.
Instead of rushing through dinner on our own, we will have time to enjoy a Shabbat dinner with no obligations afterward. We will have time to sit down, relax, and enjoy the company of our warm and welcoming community. Ginger Shulman has been planning our Shabbat dinners, and she plans to continue doing so for as long as she can. Of course, the more volunteers she gets, the longer she will be able to do it because many hands makes light work.
Now not all of us fall into the "family" demographic. Some Shabbat experiences are geared toward a more mature Shabbat mindset. For this group we will offer a different flip. We are also going to move one of our "regular" Kabbalat Shabbat services to 7:00, to give the rest of our community that same opportunity to have a snack before services and dinner after. Now, 7:00 is one of those middle-of-the-road times. People who eat early can get through dinner before services, and people who eat later can easily dine after. We are planning to keep the oneg after these services at this point, but we are willing to play with it and see what works for us as a community.
We are also hoping to learn more about what other congregations are doing on Friday nights. As I have mentioned before, we are trying to put together a Jewish Living Committee, who will be tasked with, among other things, elevated the sanctitiy of B'nai Tzedek's Shabbat experiences. They will be asked to celebrate Shabbat somewhere else, where they will learn from the best practices of Shabbat worship and report back to the rest of the Jewish Living Committee. We will then weave the suggestions we like into our own Shabbat worship experience.
The more we experience Shabbat, the more we will understand how Shabbat rest can be liberating.
Tonight is Kol Nidre. It is a night full of spirituality and meaning. Our challenge is to bring some of the Kavannah—the intention—of Kol Nidre to our souls every week.
Tonight we think about the vows we have broken and those we have renewed. Let us make a communal vow to make Shabbat observance, in some way, a central part of our Jewish identities for the coming year.
Tonight we dream. We remember the past and dream of the promise of a rich future. Our dream tonight is of a meaningful Shabbat. Shabbat for us will be a day of rest, a day of revitalization, a day of connection with our loved ones.
On this Yom Kippur, this Shabbat of our souls, we embark on a journey of many chances to experience Shabbat Kodesh, the Holy Sabbath, every week.
So again, I bid you all Shabbat Shalom.