The Freedom of Shabbat

A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.
~Karl Barth

They had Shabbat at the sleep-away camp I went to when I was ten, and I wanted to take it home with me. I made a pretty challah cover in arts and crafts, and carefully packed it in my suitcase to try to take Shabbat home, but it didn’t work. The challah cover just stayed on a shelf in the linen closet after I unpacked it.

Years later, I found the lavender and white carefully needlepointed cover neatly folded in the back of the closet, after I returned from a trip to Israel one summer. I pulled it out and tried to bring the Shabbat I had experienced in Israel into our home. This time it lasted for two sweet Friday night dinners. Then I must have forgotten about the challah cover again. Other stuff seemed more important.

It wasn’t until I lived within a community of people who observed Shabbat that I finally got to experience it on a weekly basis. For a person who is very driven, it is a healing oasis. I don’t think there is anything but a higher spiritual purpose that could get me to stop wanting to accomplish more things.

When I finally began to welcome Shabbat on a weekly basis, I heard the expression that Shabbat is the “pause that refreshes,” and that just fit so perfectly. It fits even more now than ever before. Now, it’s a chance to unplug from all the ways in which we are wired. This past Shabbat I was pondering how Shabbat becomes even more noticeably distinguishable from every other day of the week as we progress technologically. Shabbat moves in, and we lay down all the gadgets that accompany us all week long. We are left with just ourselves—and the people right around us. It feels so gloriously natural and old-fashioned—but there is no way I would free myself up in this way without a strong spiritual incentive motivating me.

It’s ironic, because from the outside it may look like those of us who are observing Shabbat are curtailing our freedom, but I know there is no other way we would release ourselves from all our gadgets. We are actually choosing to “disconnect” in order to more fully reconnect spiritually one day each week.

It’s fitting that we use the expression, “observing Shabbat.” Shabbat becomes the only chance we give ourselves each week to slow down and observe the people and places that are beside us. It provides us with time to more fully appreciate and savor all the blessings we can see (like candles shining) and feel (like welcoming hugs) and taste (like warm challah) and smell (like chicken soup simmering) and hear (like singing together, and even conversing with a real live person next to us).

We’re all here on our unique spiritual journeys—searching for different missing parts. Shabbat gives us the time and space to be mindful and observe where we are on our journeys. When we slow down to a Shabbat pace, we can pause to reflect upon the week that has passed, what its highlights were, and hopefully, reconnect with our purpose.

That challah cover I once made in camp got used so many times after I got married and was blessed with children that it became irreparably stained—with lots of spilled cups of wine and grape juice. We eventually replaced it, and for a while our little ones played pretend “Shabbat” with my old stained challah cover—on regular weekdays.

We get lost from our purpose again and again in our lives. It’s coming back to it that is miraculous.

Bracha Goetz is the author of 30 Jewish children’s books that can be found in Jewish bookstores and online here: This story is due to appear in the upcoming anthology, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less, which is scheduled for release on April 19th.

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