A Day of Rest: Learning about Shabbat from Rabbi Schadick
On Wednesday, February 5th, Beacon Hill welcomed Rabbi Schadick from Temple Emanuel to present on the Jewish practice of Shabbat (or Sabbath).
Shabbat is a day of rest. It is an opportunity to “sanctify the time,” as Schadick put it. It’s an oasis of rest in the midst of the rat race of life. It begins 20 minutes before sunset on Fridays and is marked by the lighting of two candles. The first candle is a reminder of God’s creating work and how the story of Genesis speaks of a God who makes time for rest. The second candle is a reminder of the Jewish people’s slavery in Egypt to Pharaoh—a reminder that the Jewish people have not always had the freedom to observe Shabbat. For many Jewish families, Shabbat is a time to gather together for connection and conversation. A glass of wine is often lifted up in celebration and challah bread is eaten. Therefore, Shabbat creates space for celebration, joy, neighborliness, and inclusion.
Temple Emanuel is the fifth oldest Reform Synagogue in America. It was founded in 1857 and is the largest congregation in West Michigan. Despite its size, the Jewish community remains a minority in the city of Grand Rapids. Being a religious minority in a community with a majority Christian culture has historically had some challenges for the practice of Shabbat. For instance, during the era of “blue laws” in Michigan, there was a ban on businesses opening their doors on Sundays. Therefore, in order to fully celebrate Shabbat, Jewish owned businesses needed to be closed on Saturdays, but were required by law to be closed on Sundays too. With Saturdays being the busiest shopping day of the week, most Jewish-owned businesses could not afford to close. As a result, many Jews were unable to practice a full day of rest on Shabbat. They also had to change their Shabbat service time from Saturday mornings to Friday evenings, so that they could accommodate for the majority culture. In Jerusalem, however, Shabbat is a way of life. If you are walking the streets in Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon, shops begin to close around 2pm so that the owners can prepare for Shabbat. They go home, eat dinner with their families, and begin their day of rest. On Saturday, they go to synagogue to attend the Shabbat service and celebrate the God who makes time for a break.
If you’re anything like me, making time for rest does not come naturally; but for the Jewish people, it is a high point of their week. I think we tend to focus on what we will miss out on when we take a break, but the Jewish practice of Shabbat teaches us that there is so much to gain by engaging in intentional rest from the busyness of life. Shabbat also teaches us that rest provides space—not only for oneself, but also for the other. When we step out of the rat race of life, we no longer see people as competitors, but as neighbors. So, the next time you raise a glass of wine (or whatever you drink), may you be reminded of the restful practice of Shabbat and may you be drawn into practices that provide a break for you and for others.
Grace and Peace,