March 9, 2012

Our parashah, Ki Tissa includes the famous commandment to guard Shabbat as a sign between God and Israel. What does that mean? Every word begs for its own drash, interpretation, but I will say just this—it seems that the core rationale of Shabbat in this context is thatIsrael is meant to share the Divine experience of work followed by rest. Just as God rested after creation, and just as God stopped providing manna every Saturday, so too mustIsrael alternate between active and passive states, as it “is as a sign forever.”

Our texts give us the insight that resting is a creative activity that changes the very fabric of existence on every level. We often take our rest for granted, seeing it as down time. But the truth is that we create a great deal on Shabbat. For many of us the most profound experiences of family, friendship and community are tied to Shabbat. Likewise, the sweetest prayers, songs and words of Torah come to us on Shabbat. For this to be possible we need to create space—by refraining from melakhah, work, we create spiritual potential.

As many of you know, especially those of you who follow me on Facebook, I was championing the story of theBerenAcademybasketball team.  Here was a small Modern Orthodox school fromHoustonbeing told that their team could not compete in the semi-finals and finals of the State basketball championships because they were not willing to play on Shabbat.  The league has in its by-laws that no games can be played on Sundays, but when this Jewish school (only 67 high schoolers) asked to have the final games moved away from their Shabbat, they were rejected.  This caused a national and later international outrage over what was viewed as prejudice by the league’s administrators.  A lawsuit was filed by parents from the school, and the league re-scheduled the tournament so as to not conflict with Shabbat.

This article from the Houston CultureMap best sums up my feelings on the fact that this was about more than just basketball and despite Beren losing in the finals (they won in the semifinals on Friday afternoon), it taught us a valuable lesson, that Shabbat observance is still paramount, even in the secular world.

Outsiders to Shabbat have trouble grasping this experience. They see a list of restrictions:“You can’t write?” “You can’t shop?” “You can’t cook?” “You can’t travel???” I understand why people perceive it this way—if they have not experienced the depth, the beauty and the creativity made possible by Shabbat, they can only see confinements. But in that precious period of 25 quiet hours we not only rest, we also create holiness, beauty and peace.  Just as God shares Shabbat with us, making room for us to add to its holiness, our task is to make Shabbat a sign between us and other people we did not know and their own capability to add to its holiness.

By inviting people to our table to study and to sing, we expand the circle of holiness. Just imagine how many more people will enjoy Shabbat as a result of your collective efforts!  So go “make Shabbos”—create a sublime day of rest (even if it is in a modest manner) at the same time and let us learn from a group of Texas high school boys that we can enjoy our Shabbat and enjoy what the secular world has to offer.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham