If Traditional Shabbat Just Isn’t Your Thing…

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If a more formal Shabbat experience or service just isn’t your thing but you still want to do something to mark the day, here are some ideas to get you started…

5 alternative approaches to doing Shabbat:

1) Mark the day. The name for each day of the week in Judaism is in relation to Shabbat. Sunday is day one, Monday day two, etc., all the way until day 7 which is just called Shabbat. Shabbat is how Jews mark linear time. Days, weeks and months can all blend together without a regular break. By stopping to acknowledge the passing of a week, we are able to consistently assess our growth. I’ve found that a ritual is the easiest way to do this – whether it’s lighting the candles on Friday night, starting one’s Friday night meal with a blessing over wine, or wearing a different style of clothing. Do something unique at some point during the day to make it distinct.

2) Loosen the reigns. “Life goes wrong when the control of space becomes our sole concern”, writes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Shabbat is a time to let go and put our illusion of control into perspective. There is a lot of brokenness in ourselves and in the world that needs repair, but stepping back from the role of “fixer” allows us to appreciate the world as it is and to acknowledge the aspects of our lives that are out of our control.

3) Reflect. We’re always busy, especially here in DC – too busy to think and reflect. Shabbat can and should be a time to pull ourselves out of the day-to-day and ask ourselves the bigger questions. It’s a time to focus on what’s important, not what’s urgent. Whether you prefer meditating, journaling, or going on a walk, find 30-45 minutes at some point during the day to set aside the checklist and turn inward.

4) Rest from work. Rabbinic Judaism defines work as any creative act, but feel free to define work in a way that is meaningful to you. It could be the thing you are paid to do, it could be the things that make you stressed out, it could be the things that distract you, etc. Once you have your definition, though, try to commit to refraining from those activities for the full day, or even for a few hours. See what enters your mind when you free it from those concerns.

5) Connect to others. Shabbat is also about being present with others. Many of the laws of Shabbat restrict mobility to keep you close to the people in your community (back then, and for some today, community was mostly determined by geography). Have a real, face-to-face conversation with someone. This could be over a meal, over tea, or just on a couch. It could be a group or just one-on-one. But allow yourself the pleasure of seeing and being seen.

Do you have other ideas or suggestions for how to do Shabbat outside of formal options? Please share them in the comments below!

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