Shabbes. The day on which G-d created the most important thing of all.
Many of you reading this will be thinking “But I thought Shabbes commemorates the day on which G-d didn’t create anything!”. You’re right; and that’s where the answer lies. For on Shabbes, G-d created menuchah, rest. Without rest, creativity is impossible. Inspiration and resources both run dry, and production screeches to a halt. After creating everything in the world, G-d wanted to rest, and by commanding us to keep Shabbes, He ensured that we would do the same, too.
Shabbes is a big deal. In the Jewish world, shomer Shabbes is pretty much synonymous with Orthodox. Shabbes is a day of rich meals, Synagogue services, beautiful songs- and, of course, no work. Even things which you might not consider work are prohibited, such as turning on lights, driving, and writing. I won’t list any more restrictions. Instead, I’m going to go straight onto my first point.
Stop thinking of Shabbes as a day when you can’t do this or that. I could easily list 100 things which you can’t do on Shabbes. But why? Unless you’re learning the Shabbes laws for the first time, this is not only unnecessary, but it also desecrates the spirit of Shabbes. Here’s a challenge; next time you talk about Shabbes, rather than saying “It’s a day when I can’t go to the shops or write articles or drive to visit family or turn on the lights,” say “It’s a day when I can enjoy cholent and Chollah and visit the Synagogue and read for as long as I like”. That way, you’re focussing on the positive. Believe me, until you start viewing Shabbes as a blessing, and a gift, and stop viewing it as a set of restrictions, you can’t possibly enjoy it.
When you start treasuring and looking forwards to Shabbes (this part is crucial- you can’t dread Shabbes!), then you won’t need to work on enjoying it any more. It’ll just happen. Shabbes is addictive, and soon you’ll be wishing it never had to end!
But what if this never comes, you ask. What if, after weeks, months, maybe even years of trying to keep and enjoy Shabbes, you still don’t care for it? What then? Keeping it is non negotiable, but so is delighting in it. It’s a horrible scenario, and please G-d no one should have to feel this way- but some people do. Luckily, I have some advice for people in that situation.
You need to start by working out why exactly you don’t like Shabbes. I’m going to give a couple of examples, but your problem might not be anything like these suggestions. If so, don’t worry. Just carry on thinking about your Shabbes routine until you hit on exactly what it is you don’t like! So, to begin with, some people find the Shabbes services boring. I can say I’ve never felt this way (it’s always been the highlight of my week), but it’s a pretty common complaint. Thinking back to the various services I’ve attended, I’m going to say that out of all of them, Chabad House services have been the most interesting. It’s very homely at a Chabad House, so you don’t have to worry about putting on a show, and the songs we sing are very, very catchy. What’s more, any sermon will be short and to the point (we rarely have sermons at mine!), plus you get Kiddush and a lunch thrown in. Seek out your local Chabad House and give it a go.
If you’ve tried Chabad and it really isn’t your thing, I’d suggest trying out a different Chabad, because it’s really the most authentic experience there is, but I don’t think that advice will go down very well. Instead, I’ll just say that you should shop around at different Shuls until you find one you really enjoy. Your Shabbes might not be very restful while you’re checking out a different Shul every Shabbes, but it can’t ever be enjoyable until you find one you like! So get to work straightaway; search for google maps, then type in “Synagogue”. Pretty much every Shul in your area will pop up, and you can spend some time weeding out the “wrong” ones, until you have a select few possibles. Contact these synagogues and start visiting them as soon as you’re ready.
(If there aren’t any within walking distance, don’t panic. There’s still hope for you; all you do is explain your situation to the rabbi of the nearest Shul/Chabad house, and arrange to have a Shabbaton. This means you arrive at their house on Friday night and stay there until Shabbes goes out!)
Another thing that loads of people have problems with is the restriction on using the Internet. I must confess, I’m not as opposed to Internet usage as many Charedim are. I completely understand the dangers of the Internet, but I also think it’s a priceless tool for learning (Just check out Chabad.org if you doubt this!), communicating and even recreation. Though you need to be careful with those last two things, I reckon. However, the bottom line is- not on Shabbes. There’s no loophole here; you simply can’t use it!
Many people find that really difficult to cope with. I sort of sympathise, because I was pretty reliant on email when I started to become observant, and had a hard time giving it up for 25 hours! Sure enough though, I did it- in fact, email was the first thing I gave up, followed by the Internet, then the phone, then playing music. Boosting Shabbes observance in stages seemed to work well for me, and I reccomend it. But back to the subject of the Internet; I don’t really have any brilliant advice, but I can say that we are probably a little too reliant on it. As in- a 25 hour break from email is probably healthy.
Here’s what I say; force yourself to do it. Just for one Shabbes, make yourself do it. Turn off your broadband, unplug the computer, lock away your phone, and say to yourself, for this one day, I’m not touching them. Resist the temptation. Surround yourself with good company, good food, and good books. Chances are, that in the last couple of hours of Shabbes, you’ll realise you don’t actually need these things! Maybe you’ll even wish you didn’t have to turn them back on, and enter into the weekday routine of emails and deadlines and texts…
If this doesn’t work for you, then I’m sorry. All you can really do is try it one more time. It won’t hurt. Maybe that first time round you were having a bad day, or it was a particularly busy time. Believe me, you can do it! You’ve got a Jewish soul, and if other Jews can do it, you can too. If you’re really struggling, talk to your Rabbi about the issue. Particularly if your Rabbi is Chabad, he’ll probably be very understanding of the issue.
I’m hoping that after reading this, those of you who struggle with Shabbes will start looking at it in a new light! After all, it was given as a gift exclusively to the Jewish people, and you shouldn’t ever reject a gift…