This Shabbat morning we will be fortunate to listen to the reading of one of the most significant statements of religion and morality: the Aseret Hadibrot, or the Ten Commandments. Isn't it strange that these commandments are just as controversial today as they were 3500 years ago when the Jewish people first received them at Mount Sinai? Who could imagine that at the beginning of the twenty first century we would still be arguing about these ten simple laws?
I once saw a bumper sticker that said: "The Ten Commandments are not multiple choice." We are not supposed to pick and choose between them. Yet I suspect that we do.
The truth is, though, most of us do affirm the Ten Commandments. If I received a dime every time someone said, "I'm a good person. I try to live by the Ten Commandments," I'd be rich. Most people choose to define morality by this basic set of laws. The fact that there are six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Torah, and not just ten, doesn't seem to matter to most of us. Everything comes down to this sub-set that we can count on two hands. We believe them. We affirm them. And we try to live by them.
All, except one, that is. There's one commandment that we seem to have forgotten. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." While we regularly affirm the Ten Commandments as the fundamental laws of society, few people make the time to 'remember' the Sabbath and make it a regular part of their weekly schedule. I don't mean simply coming to synagogue or attending a church once a week. I mean setting aside twenty-four or twenty five hours as a true day of rest and renewal.
Just the opposite is true: we are moving furiously toward a society that functions 24/7. In fact we may already be there. We value immediate service, fast response, and we crave our constantconnection to the world. How many of us carry cell phones and other wireless internet devices with us all the time. There is no time for breaks and we value speed above all else. The instruments that we consider conveniences actually enslave us. We can't free ourselves of them. We have to check our e-mail; we can't bear to forgo the last phone call. We're afraid we'll miss something.
While communications devices have brought us closer together, they have also made our lives more chaotic and hectic. There was a time when you wrote a letter and you had to wait several days or a week for a response. Now the response is almost immediate. Rather then improving our lives, wireless devices consume the spare minutes between chores. There's no time to breathe; someone is waiting for our answer.
Regular mail is now referred to pejoratively as snail mail. It has become something of a dinosaur. One of my colleagues recently asked me, when was the last time you took the time to hand-write a letter to someone? Worst of all, our work follows us home as we turn on our personal computers. Or if you're like me, then you never turn your computer off. It's constantly feeding you an overwhelming amount of data and information. We are on overload. Life doesn't stop. And we grow more and more tired each day. In fact right now, 9:01 am Thursday morning, I'm pretty tired already after a sleepless night.
This obsession with technology has had another ill affect on us. The more time we spend focusing on the outside world means that we spend less time focusing on our inner spiritual life. It is so easy to spend all our time checking e-mail, looking at the news, watching video clips, and monitoring the weather that we never stop to listen to the inner sounds of our soul. Shabbat is an opportunity to take a moratorium from the world so that we can get back in touch not only with God but with ourselves, and our community. It's a chance to rediscover our family and renew our romance with our spouse. What could be more romantic than a dinner with candlelight and wine? Shabbat is an opportunity to smell the roses, take a walk, or just spend time veg'ing out with a friend.
I was fascinated to discover an article on-line about the importance of "Keeping the Sabbath." What was so fascinating for me was that the article appeared in an on-line journal from the Alden Institute. The Alden Institute is an organization that advises churches on how to function more effectively. Written by Lynne Baab, A Presbyterian Minister, the article suggests that we need to rediscover the Sabbath as a way of avoiding burn out. Rev. Baab responds to several myths about keeping the Sabbath. Her approach sounds very Jewish!
One common myth is that we can't afford the time to give up a whole day of productivity each week. Ms Baab points out that in recent studies it was found that people who worked seven 50-hour weeks got no more done than those who worked seven 40-hour weeks. Among more than a hundred and fifty churchgoers the author found that people who observed the Sabbath got more done because they felt more focused and rested during the work week even though they may work fewer total hours.
We need the Sabbath now more than ever. Shabbat does not restrict our lives - it frees us to become our selves. It saves us from burn out. And while Shabbat may be different for each of us, we need to begin by blocking out this time and giving it back to God.
Shabbat is the forgotten commandment. And we need it now more then ever. So lets "Turn off, shut down, and reconnect to life!" Shabbat Shalom. Looking forward to seeing you on Shabbat and standing with you as the Ten Commandments are read again.
(excerpts from Shabbat: The Forgotten Commandment by
Rabbi Mark B Greenspan, Beth Shalom Oceanside Jewish Center)