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Meditation, exercise, creativity, and…

FOUR.

Jewish spirituality, set down by the Prophet Isaiah, comes in fours: delight, honor, freedom from planning daily tasks and freedom from speaking about them.

Together, these four gifts comprise the serenity of Shabbos. Together, they call attention to four other human strivings, outside of Jewish spirituality. In an electronically engaged world, even its most successful participants seek a respite from its pressures and quandaries.

We want in.

And we want out.

We want into the productivity and the human and financial rewards of involvement in the world.

And we want out: freedom from the insatiable vortex of communication, conflict and daily demands.

We want such outlets as meditation, exercise and artistic creativity. These may enhance the body or mind, which the Torah commands us to attend to. Therefore we might embrace:

Meditation.

“We’re great advocates of mindfulness meditation,” write Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz in their syndicated medical column. Meditation “reduces the stress response, refreshes the body and makes it easier to sort out tasks and thoughts.

“And we’re glad that recent studies have shown that meditation can help woman overcome fertility problems; lower blood pressure; relieve anxiety and depression; and ease pain and increase mobility in folks with arthritis . . . So whether you enjoy meditating for the calm it brings you or you’re using it to help relieve a specific condition, the scientific evidence is growing that the benefits are more than ethereal.”1

Exercise.

“At just 31 years old, Aaron Ollivier was burned out. The antidote, he found, was rediscovering an activity he enjoyed as a teenager and college student: climbing. He remembered the hobby gave him the freedom to shed his worries and just focus on getting up a rock safely.”

So begins a story in the Wall Street Journal about a CEO in Provo, Utah.

His business soon became extremely successful and demanded of its CEO 60- to 70-hour work weeks. When he began climbing everything  from some of the world’s highest mountains to a canyon outside his back door, he went from “going 80 miles an hours for 12, 15 hours a day” to returning home “refreshed and determined to make his company a more fun place to work.”2

Any serious exercise routine may yield the same result.

Creativity.

Say that I draw or paint, and bring into existence a perception no other human being has ever had.

Or I write, and my words evoke tears, laughter or reevaluation in a way that changes readers and, perhaps, through them, great swaths of humanity.

I design jewelry or decorations or clothing that delights someone or endears one person to another.

Iphotograph an ordinary image with an extraordinary result.

I compose, and my sounds reorder the inner life not only of myself but of potentially countless others.

In my artistic creativity I might lose myself and transcend time, coasting unconsciously into a sphere or “zone” all my own, freed of worries, doubts, obligations, or even pain.

HEALTH IN body and mind enhances the observance of the Sabbath. Productivity during the six days of the week gives perspective to the seventh.

Yet, beyond the health of body and mind, and beyond the satisfaction of work, is the soaring of the soul.Judaism has a secret for taking the soul beyond high purpose in work, and beyond the blessings of meditation, exercise and creativity. There is something higher than a peaceful, or refreshed, or creative, or productive soul: a spiritual soul. That secret is disclosed by Shabbos.

Its secret is fourfold. Isaiah 58:13 writes:

“ . . . proclaim the Sabbath a delight; and the holy day of   G-d honored; do not engage in . . . planning your affairs or speaking about them.”

Delight, honor, release in word and in deed — the four attributes  of Shabbos.

I treat them in reverse order.

THE FOURTH attribute frees the Sabbath observer from speaking about daily affairs.

When Shabbos arrives, my week is over. Whatever is undone, it’s as if done. Whatever I was destined to achieve this week, I did. There are no untied strings. My mouth is freed from the need to speak about my daily tasks, freed from my frustrations the same as from my hopes. This is Isaiah’s fourth directive: Do not speak about them.

A profound Sabbath observer actually outgrows this command. He feels no need to speak about anything that reminds him of the week or causes an inner churning.

The Sabbath observer is liberated, at one with the week and with himself.

He need not want out. Exit from the exigencies of life is automatic. Astronomical, every seventh day. The gift is ineluctable.

Shabbos is detached from the hustle and stress of the weekday. Shabbos itself, absent meditation or exercise, absent creativity or productivity, brings calm, relieves anxiety and refreshes the soul. On Shabbos, spiritual and psychological benefits unite.

THE THIRD attribute of Shabbos frees the Sabbath observer from planning his affairs.

Every minute of Shabbos is full. Example: If I need to catch a plane shortly after the conclusion of Shabbos, the laws of Shabbos forbid me from packing my suitcase on Shabbos to save a little time due to a potentially tight schedule. No. Shabbos is full. Self-validating. If I am in the midst of a peak experience — at my own wedding or that of my child; meeting the President of the United States or the Queen of England — I am not planning what comes next. On Shabbos, one does not plan what comes next. It is a peak experience.

Not to mention, on Shabbos there is no planning of my work schedule, assignments or business strategies; no planning of my shopping, my vacationing or entertainment. Shabbos is unto itself. Lacking nothing.

Even my prayer changes. I am not to feel the need to make personal requests of G-d. Not because I might not have enduring needs, financial or familial; I might well have them, or others. But on Shabbos I do not feel them and therefore undertake no action, even prayer, to meet them.

My prayer on Shabbos is strictly praise of and gratitude to the Alm-ghty, and requests for the whole community. Any other petitionary prayer may stimulate anxiety or simply set me back down in the world of the weekday. As Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein writes:

“Man as petitioner is dominated by a sense of helplessness. Naked to the universe, alternatively broken reed and aspiring shoot, he pleads, not for assistance and sustenance alone, but for the very maintenance of his physical and spiritual existence. The suppliant is man in crisis. The Shabbat celebrant, by contrast, is man relaxed. Uncoiled, he basks in the aura of a time to which care seems wholly antithetical.”

THE SECOND attribute of Shabbos is honor.

To honor Shabbos is passive; it is to refrain from 39 categories of creative labor. The Sabbath laws wholly detach one from the worlds of electronics, transportation, agriculture and commerce. The laws of Shabbos are indispensable; they provide the framework. Through their observance, Shabbos provides the release, becoming a time to reflect, to catch up on oneself, to bask in the Divine Presence.

To honor Shabbos is active; it is to wear clean clothes — indeed, one’s best clothes. To honor Shabbos is to transform one’s entire physical demeanor. One’s step is different. One’s mealtimes are different. Indeed, one’s food should be gourmet — the best, and the most ample.

The Shabbos meal is a time to luxuriate, to take one’s time, to indulge. A time to spoil oneself. The Shabbos meal is a time for quality time with family and friends. On Shabbos, body, mind and soul unite.

THE FIRST attribute of Shabbos is delight.

The first three attributes of Shabbos yield an inner rejoicing, a change in inner demeanor and perspective. A delight of the soul. An elevation. A transformation. A rejoicing in being the object of attention of none other than the Creator of the Universe. Shabbos prompts an urge to glorify G-d in one’s heart and through prayer.

Shabbos is a different sphere.

An alternative universe — a delight that liberates.

Notes: 1. Denver Post, March 17, 2015; 2. Rachel Feintzeig, “When the daily Grind Gets Him Down, He Goes Up,”  Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com


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