Jun 19, 2011

Shabbat: What Can't You Live Without?

This entire post is based on a single question with two variations.

If you do observe Shabbat
what is the one thing you wish was permitted?

If you don't observe Shabbat, what is the one thing you couldn't live without being able to do over the 25-hour period?

Now for a bit of background. I recently was thinking about this question -- for me the former -- and I didn't even have to debate. It's easy: Shower. As someone who loathes sweating and suffers from the worst of allergies (two different meds and I still needed some Benadryl on Shabbos in Neve Daniel!), I crave a late-night Friday shower and a pre-shul shower on Saturdays.

I wrote last year a post about a major decision circa 2008 in which I had to choose between Shabbos or a $20 Bill, and during my summer in Chicago that same year I blogged a lot about my struggles to take on the mitzvah of Shabbos observance. I got a lot of flack, but I also got a lot of support. It's not like deciding to stop drinking soda or coffee, no, it's more than that. But do any of us really understand why we observe Shabbos? Do any of us really see how black and white it is? Or is it just a day of rest, a day where we don't work, a day where we spend the time as we see fit?

Ultimately, Shabbos is easily defined: In Hebrew, Shabbat means resting. At the beginning of Genesis, HaShem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, refraining from creating. It's easy to say that we were commanded by a divine power to rest according to the Decalogue (aka 10 Commandments), so we should stop what we're doing and rest because the Man Upstairs said so. But what does resting mean? And, more importantly, what does "creating" entail?

I remember, once upon a time, asking a friend what Shabbat meant to them. This friend responded that it was a day of rest from the week's work, just as G-d commanded, so they spent their time at the movies, shopping, playing guitar, and doing all of the things that made them feel rested. It makes sense; even I'll admit that. We've rolled into this world where Shabbat is more about resting from work than resting from creating, and we often lose sight of what it means to create. Hence, this is why we have the 39 Melachot, or forms of creative activity, from which we abstain (found in Talmud Tractate Shabbat).

Again, we don't rest from work or that unfun stuff we do 24/5 -- we rest from creation.

I won't go into every last detail of the 39 Melachot, because to be honest, it takes people a lifetime to get everything down pat, but you can find a list of them here. As the world evolves and changes, we have to figure out how our new-fangled lifestyles fit into the idea of "creation." It's never the other way around -- we don't bend creation for our access to life, we bend our lives to rest from creation.

But let's be honest, from a practical point of view, even if you don't buy into the divinity of the 10 Commandments or the command to rest from creation on Shabbat, it makes lots of sense to just take a day off from creating -- whether that, for you, is writing, moving furniture, baking, cooking, flipping on your laptop, refreshing Twitter a dozen times an hour, and so on.

So, have you thought of your answer? Sock it to me.

Note: I just realized that I flip between Shabbat and Shabbos more than anyone I know. The only difference is sort of the Hebrew (Shabbos) and Modern Hebrew (Shabbat) pronunciation of the word שבת.


Bethany said...

Writing would be nice. I like to write letters, and I also like making notes in books that I'm reading.

Drew said...

As someone who recently began working towards being shomer shabbat, I find that often, I have the urge to write or sketch on shabbos. I don't know if it's because it's the only time my mind isn't overstimulated or because shabbos brings so many beautiful things front and center, but almost every shabbos I wish I could draw or write a short story.

The only thing that makes me sad sometimes, is the fact that so often many fun things are planned on Saturdays and I have to miss them.

All of that being said, shabbos gives me so much more every week than any of the things I miss sometimes.

{ T G L } said...

Playing my guitar and writing songs. I often have my best song-writing ideas on Shabbat - probably because I am 'in the zone' and feeling happy and relaxed. I've 'lost' a lot of cool snippets of melodies and lyrics to the Universe because I couldn't write them down!

One of the things that I could go without: traveling. I travel on Shabbat, it is one of the few concessions I do. Otherwise, there is no shul for me to get to. So I have committed myself to accepting this but I still resent it. I love the peace and quiet of being able to walk and find that traveling feels really disruptive.

This Good Life

Aidel Knaidel said...

I can honestly say that after many years of being Shomer Shabbos, I don't miss anything. On a two or three-day yontif, I used to ache to brush my teeth, but I chew gum now--it helps. I remember struggling with the writing/sketching issues. I remember struggling with the shower issues also. After 25+ years of Shabbos Kodesh, it's okay. Hang in there.

Tamar SB said...

Cooking! I love my time away from my laptop and phone and tv - time to read, and veg out, but I LOVE to cook and love on yontov being able to good and it takes the rush rush ruh out the prep and I find i enjoy yontov more because of that. So I'd say cooking!

DLP said...

In the summer time, I wish I could take my kids to the neighborhood pool. Year-round -- I wish I could go for a long run when time permits...

Rivki Locker said...

Cooking for sure. To me, cooking is therapeutic. I think if I could cook on shabbos my relaxation would be complete. (Plus I hate the logistics of having to have everything ready ahead of time.)

M. said...

As a kid, whenever I went to a house where I couldn't write or draw, I resented it. My family belonged (and my parents still belong; my sister and I are in our 20s and out of their house) to an Orthodox synagogue, but my mother's take on Shabbat was more like your friend's, so the only things we actually observed were no TV, no trains/cars/bikes, and no spending money.

As a disaffiliated adult (your blog interests me because your path is pretty much the opposite of mine), I think the hardest thing to give up would be the freedom. I love having a whole, unbroken weekend ahead of me as soon as my Friday is over. I buy my groceries and catch up on the week's crosswords and go to whatever events my friends are planning, and the only constraint I have is my schedule itself. In the fall, I especially appreciate having Saturdays for Useful and Often Boring Life Things since Sundays are for football, football, football, and fantasy football.

Anonymous said...

Wait - who says you can't shower on Shabbat (with water that hasn't been heated on Shabbat and without washing your hair)? And who says you can't brush your teeth (with liquid toothpaste, or with no toothpaste)? Why add all sorts of chumras that make Shabbat less pleasant?

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

I think it's interesting that so many crave writing (I, too, once suffered this, but I've gotten over it) ... think about creation, and think about the book that is based on creation. It was written, clearly, and we now take writing for granted (think about how long it took Moses to write everything!). Yet, it's still something we so desire to do on Shabbos.

@Anonymous You can brush your teeth. I don't follow Aidel's position on this, so maybe she can elaborate. You just have to be conscious of the prohibitions of creation regarding "memachek," which means smoothing out a hide by removing all its hair. Brushing teeth involves smoothing out the toothpaste. You can brush with mouthwash or liquid toothpaste NO problem.

@M I'd love to hear your story :)

Anonymous said...

Honestly, driving is the one thing we can't give up because we simply cannot afford to live in the eruv where the house prices (and rents) are at the very least double what other parts of town cost (and triple from yet others) and the houses are much much smaller. Giving up being a part of a community because we can't afford the high costs to live in it is too much of a burden.

Anonymous said...

Also, with regards to the permissiveness of brushing teeth on Shabbat, you might think it is forbidden, but I learned in yeshivah that Rabbah and Rav Yosef teach us at the bottom of Massechet Shabbos 128b say that there is no sechitah b'seiyar (wringing out doesn't apply with hair). So that is why sefaradim tend to be lenient. I don't know why ashkenazim are strict though, and my posek said that I can be lenient.

Anonymous said...

Also, there is another heter which permits using regular toothpaste. I don't remember the makor for it off hand though.

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