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Rabbi's Blog: Shabbat, May 2023

If there is one thing we could use more of, it’s time. I sometimes joke that I wish there were two (or more!) of me so I could do everything I wanted. But really, that’s just another way of saying there is not enough time.

There is a story of a teacher who had a glass jar on his desk, along with a pile of rocks, pebbles and sand. He told his students that the only way to get all the rocks, pebbles and sand into the jar is to start with the rocks, let the pebbles fill in the spaces between the rocks, and finally let the sand fill in the space between the pebbles. The lesson is to make sure that the big things are taken care of first, otherwise there will never be enough space – or time – to get them in at the end.

Our Jewish tradition has long thought the different ways we use our precious time. King Solomon once said that to everything there is a time, and a season for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die... a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance, and so on.

The Talmud, a central collection of rabbinic writings, tells the story of how even God has to practice time management. According to one passage, God spends the first three hours of the day studying, the second three hours of the day judging the world with mercy, the third three hours sustaining the world, and the final three hours of the day playing with the leviathan, God’s pet whale. It’s an allegory, of course, about the importance of devoting some time to self-improvement, some time to our work’s various tasks, some time with those we care about, and to make sure that there is time for fun.

The Torah itself talks about the necessity of work, but to also make sure that we carve out time for something other than work. Those times are the various holidays and festivals, but the most frequent, and one of the most important is Shabbat.

The Torah gives two big reasons for Shabbat – the first is because God rested on the seventh day of Creation, suggesting that if even God rests, so too should we. And the second is because we were slaves in Egypt and now we are free. Slavery was dehumanizing, turning the Israelites into something less than full people. Their worth was measured only by what they could produce for others. Therefore, the Egyptians had no reason to give the Israelites time for Shabbat or anything other than work. Shabbat recognizes our humanity. Yes, it is important to be productive and contribute to society and our own sustenance. But that’s not everything. It’s also important for us to nurture relationships, to learn, to grow, and to enjoy life.

While Jewish tradition prescribes various Shabbat practices, we can also add our own creativity and judgment about what is right and wrong for us on Shabbat. We can choose to have a special Friday night dinner or Saturday afternoon lunch, we can choose to come to TKC, we can choose to make time for family or friends. And it’s not all or nothing. The important thing is to make sure that we have time for the important things in life.

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