Bnei Yisrael shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations. [Shemos 31:16]
As the Kuzari explains, Judaism introduced the world to the universally accepted seven-day week. The culmination of the week for the Jewish people is the Sabbath – a day of rest, connection to God, and rejuvenation. Subsequently, other religions adopted the Shabbat principle by taking a weekly day off from their work. Fast forward to today, with the advent of electronic connectivity some even propose adopting a “secular Sabbath” to insulate themselves from the ever-present media, which penetrates every aspect of our lives.
“I took a real day off this weekend: computers shut down, cell phone left in my work bag, landline ringer off. I was fully disconnected for twenty-four hours. The reason for this change was a natural and predictable backbreaking straw. Flying home from Europe a few months ago, I swiped a credit card through the slot of the in-seat phone, checked my e-mail and robbed myself of one of my two last sanctuaries.
“At that point, the only other place I could escape was in my sleep. Yet I had developed the habit of leaving a laptop next to my bed so I could check my e-mail, last thing and first thing. I had learned how to turn my P.D.A. into a modem, the better to access the Web from my laptop when on a train. Of course I also used that P.D.A. in conventional ways, attending to it when it buzzed me. I’m a techno-addict, but after my airplane experience, I decided to do something about it. Thus began my “secular Sabbath” – a term I found floating around on blogs – a day a week where I would be free of screens, bells, and beeps. An old-fashioned day not only of rest but of relief.
“And sure enough, as soon as I started looking I found others who felt the need to turn off, to take a stab at reconnecting to things real rather than virtual, a moderate but carefully observed vacation from ubiquitous marketing and the awesome burden of staying in touch. Nor is this surprising, said David Levy, a professor in the information school at the University of Washington. ‘What’s going on now is insane,’ he said, assuring me that he used the term intentionally. ‘Living a good life requires a kind of balance, a bit of quiet.’” (Based on I Need a Virtual Break, by Mark Bittman, nytimes.com, March 2, 2008.)
Why not enjoy a “secular Shabbat”?
Each person can determine the parameters of what suits him best, based on his particular needs and schedule, to get the break he desires. A doctor might take off Wednesdays, a barber Mondays. And certainly, if something pressing arises this week, I’ll go into the office and take off a couple of days next week to compensate.
Maybe I’ll even be paid overtime! If so, why are the Jewish people so dedicated to when and how to observe Shabbat?
There are two NLE Morasha shiurim addressing Shabbos. The first class, Shabbat I: Plugging into the Goals of Life, discusses how Shabbat observance teaches and reinforces the foundations of Jewish belief. The class will also explain the concept of Shabbat menuchah – a profound, integrated physical rest and spiritual experience – by both refraining from melachah, creative work, and enjoying the special mitzvot of the day. Finally, we hope to portray the profound impact that Shabbat has made, and continues to make, on the life of the Jewish people.
The second class, Shabbat II: The Shabbat Experience, examines aspects of Shabbat that join to form our total Shabbat experience: lighting candles, Kiddush, challah, and the special Shabbat meals. All these elements of Shabbat help to create the unique atmosphere of rest and spiritual rejuvenation that we aim to achieve on Shabbat.