I’ve mentioned in other posts that although I was a bar mitzvah, I didn’t come to serious Jewish learning and involvement until I was in my mid-20’s, after my experience with TM had begun.

During that first year or so, meditation was my “model” for what Judaism was about. I didn’t realize until years later how much this paralleled the kabbalists’ understanding and emphasis. But at that time, I thought of Judaism as being about an ideal society combined with individual spirituality: “Socialism and Yoga,” as I later described it.

For me, Shabbat was a day of individual spiritual absorption. A kind of “personal, private retreat.”

Then, around ’77, one of the nights of Chanukah coincided with Christmas Eve. It was one of the early years of Habad lighting a 30-foot menorah on 5th Ave. and 59th St. in Manhattan. Emulating this, Lincoln Square Synagogue was lighting a large public menorah on 72nd St. and Broadway (a couple of blocks from the synagogue itself and a much more physically convenient location for them).

I seem to remember that things were starting later than scheduled. My friend and I had gotten down there at the announced time, but hardly anyone was there. It was a moderately comfortable night as I remember it; little of the frigid air or snow that New York City can have at that time of year. So, it wasn’t uncomfortable to simply stand, waiting patiently.

It being Christmas Eve, too, all the stores were closed. The sidewalks — usually packed with people — were empty. Broadway — ordinarily a madhouse of activity — had almost no cars moving on it; not even taxis. Peacefulness permeated what was ordinarily a bustling, noisy section of Manhattan.

I suddenly realized that this was an aspect of Shabbat that I’d missed completely, because I hadn’t lived in a pervasively Orthodox or Hasidic community. Even though I’d attended Young Israel (Orthodox) services for almost 2 years by then, it wasn’t in a neighborhood where stores might be closed on Shabbat.  The concerns of the world outside the walls of the synagogue were still just that — the concerns of the world, with undiminished activity, traffic, noise.

That Christmas Eve in Manhattan, I got a “taste” of what it feels like for an entire community to become quiet.

It wasn’t the eerie quiet of streets that are deserted because of some threat. It was a comfortable, soothing peacefulness.

(Of course, Christmas can also be a time of great stress for people, but that’s another topic).

I saw that the serenity permeated the streets in large part because all commercial activity had ceased. Along with it, commercial concerns were temporarily off the mind and heart, too. I also imagined that the quietness was in some part created by the more loving interaction that Christmas ideally urges on people. Kind, caring thoughts added depth to the physical quiet itself, without being disturbed by aggressive concerns for “self.” Like the ideal of “Woodstock,” people were creating harmony in the wider environment by the thoughts, words and actions they chose.

I felt, then, that this was a glimpse of G-d’s intention in creating Shabbat and Yom Tovim (of which Hanukah is actually not the best example, because it doesn’t require that work cease completely).  It’s far more than one day each week when we stop buying and selling; stop commuting; stop draining ourselves. Rather, Shabbat and Yom Tovim are meant as weekly and annual days when we take our minds and hearts off of mundane things and create (or recreate) a “world” in which kindness, caring and “kavannah” — directing the heart to G-d — pervade.

Perhaps that’s why the Talmud says: “Shabbat is 1/60th of the world-to-come.” [1]

1/60th = “a little taste.”

It’s a ” little taste” of what the world was like for Adam and Havah in Gan Eden, before their exile.

It’s a “little taste” of what this world will someday be like in its most ideal future.

It’s a “little taste” of what this world could be like at its best, even today!

It should be something that we look forward to eagerly.

There are many good online articles about Shabbat. Here are links to 3:

http://www.bje.org.au/learning/judaism/holydays/shabbat/index.html
www.chabad.org/…/aid/258916/jewish/What-is-Shabbat.htm
http://scheinerman.net/judaism/Ideas/shabbat.html

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[1] Berachot 57b
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