Last weekend, Jews around the world took part in the National Day of Unplugging, a project created by Reboot and its Sabbath Manifesto to help the hyperconnected, 21st-century world take a step back, slow down and pause from using technology. As much as I am an advocate for the annual day of unplugging, as a rabbi I have to wonder about the other 51 Shabbatot of the year. Shabbat is a day that goes beyond unplugging once a year, because this reoccurring day of “rest” is supposed to help us feel refreshed and rejuvenated before re-entering each and every week.
If you look closely at the Torah portions from recent weeks, you’ll notice that amid the narrative beginning with the Exodus from Egypt, there have been quick and often subtle mentions of Shabbat. For example, right after we left Egypt, we received manna to eat in the desert. The Jews were told to collect manna each day of the week and on Friday, they would collect a double portion, one for Friday and one for Saturday (Exodus 16:13-36). A few chapters later, we receive the Decalogue/Ten Commandments where we learn to “remember” (Zachor) and later to “observe” (Shamor) the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8, Deut. 5:12). Then, following a litany of laws and the story of the Golden Calf, we read the passage of the V’shamru, the commandment to keep the Sabbath and rest, in last week’s portion (Exodus 31:13-15).
In this week’s double Torah portion, Moses gathers the Israelites as they put the finishing touches on building the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Before Moses proceeds, there is another interruption describing Shabbat, specifically the law not to kindle a flame on the Sabbath, which is a form of creation and work. So why again do we have another mentioning of Shabbat as a part of our greater narrative? Didn’t we somehow fulfill the Shabbat experience by “unplugging” last weekend?
The 15th-century Spanish commentator Isaac Abarbanel picked up on the interesting placements of Shabbat throughout the Torah. Abarbanel makes a parallel to our lives. We work incredibly hard during the week and then we have Shabbat so that when we return to the week, we are ready to “give it our all.”
Shabbat is not only a day for us to rest and feel rejuvenated from our week. It is an imperative enabling us to be at full strength when re-entering each and every new week, be it at work, engaging with our families, being present in our relationships, building a Tabernacle, following the mitzvot or keeping with the norms of society. Shabbat is as much about our need to rest as it is a mechanism for being productive when plugged in.
We are a hardworking, hyperconnected and overstimulated society, perpetually burning the candle at both ends. Ask just about anyone on the street how they are doing and most will say they are exhausted and stretched thin. Even for those who view unplugging as a time to zone out and unwind, using Shabbat to pause, even just for a few hours once a week, can be an added quiet space to reflect. take a step back and embrace a Shabbat-like atmosphere. Look at it as a time to re-energize and appreciate all that you’ve accomplished before starting again. And get this: If you unplug for a day, think about how many updates you’ll get to read on Facebook when you plug back in.
Shabbat can serve as the antidote to our lives as individuals, as communities and as a Jewish people. Abarbanel teaches us that we not only need Shabbat as a time of rest, of separation from the mundane to the holy, but so that we can be more efficient when we engage ourselves in the world, when we “reconnect” and “plug in.” Shabbat allows us to take a break and withdraw and, at the same time, be more effective when we are busy and when we are working to better the world and lives around us. Knowing how hard we all work, may we always make space for those important, weekly Shabbat moments. May Shabbat provide us that gift of rest so that we may use this holy and sacred time to prepare ourselves to re-enter the world ready to accomplish our goals, our hopes and our dreams each and every week of our lives.
Rabbi Corey Helfand is the spiritual leader of Conservative Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.