Showing posts with label Sabbath. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sabbath. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


"Blessed are You, God, the One who spreads peace over us, over all His people of Israel and over Jerusalem." (Arvit, Erev Shabbat - Friday Evening Liturgy)

While Jews recite a blessing for peace in every evening service, this line is specific to the Friday prayers. I love how we welcome the Sabbath by wishing each other "Shabbat shalom," a peaceful Sabbath, and praying for God to shelter us in a peaceful embrace. For me, the phrase "the One who spreads peace" evokes an image of God covering the world with a blanket of peace just as a parent gently tucks a child into bed at night. At the same time, the ancient, three-fold blessing of "us, Israel, and Jerusalem" gives me pause. For the Jew who composed these wordsprobably in the wake of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalemthis prayer was intended to apply solely to Jews. However, after engaging in interfaith conversations and study of our sacred texts with you, I have come to a new interpretation of this prayer: I believe each phrase builds from the personal to the universal. First, I pray for me, my family and friends; then for my synagogue community and Jews everywhere; and, finally, for Jerusalem, the spiritual center for all of us who answer Abraham.

How very special your prayer, Tziporah!  I am moved by blessings for peace in all our faith traditions, yet also troubled by the absence of peace in the actual lives we live.  We proclaim “peace,” but we go to war with our neighbor, whether across the street or across the world. I am troubled that we—righteous men and women of every faith, even men and women who share a faith—can so easily foment battles with one another, whether over land or a political ideology or a religious doctrine or practice. The words of the song “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” haunt me as I ask myself, “With whom do I need to make peace today, and how do I do so?” Peace-making is rarely sweet and easy; it is very hard work! It occurs to me that, even with dedication and heightened awareness, I cannot be a bringer of peace unless I myself am profoundly rooted in the divine—where “self” is lost because consumed. Paradoxically, I believe that, in losing self, we find the self created in God’s own image, the self that does not need to be right, but only to be.  To be willing to lose one’s self in this way is terrifying, but I am convinced that only in so doing can we ever know fully “that peace that passes understanding.”

Tziporah, I join my voice with yours and turn to As-Salaam, the One Who is the Source of Peace.  Like you, I wish for a peace that starts from the city that symbolizes the convergent point of God’s universal message.  As you know, the Islamic social greeting is “Peace be upon you.” You may also be aware that, in each of the five daily prayers, Muslims send prayers of peace to all the righteous servants of God.  I also join Grace in inviting myself and others to introspection of our most-inner selves: How can we learn to see past our apparent external differences?Indeed, God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves.” (al-Ra’d 13:11) This invitation to start the process of change and make the “self” better is what will alter the perceptions we have of each other.  Islam literally means to find inner peace by submitting to the will and commands of God. I am thankful I have been able to celebrate Islam with you both, and I pray that by sharing our conversations we can inspire others to choose a similar path.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

God, Not Greed

"To God the dearest places are the mosques, and the most unpleasant places are markets." (Reporter: Hadthrat Abu Hurairah in Sahih Muslim, Riyadus lSaeheen, #1841)

There are plenty of references in the Qur’an and the Hadith which teach Muslims how to conduct business in an honest, respectable way. Even a cursory examination of Islam shows that it is not anti-business, and Muslims throughout history have been prosperous businessmen and women. But this hadith does make an important point about what our priorities should be. The markets aren’t just described in this hadith as unpleasant—they are actually contrasted with the ‘dearest places’ to God, our houses of worship. That’s because there is nothing that works against our spirituality like the pursuit of worldly wealth. For most of us, our work tends to take up more time than our worship, our family time, and our creative pursuits combined. This hadith is a call for us to re-examine that inequality of spirituality in our lives and to keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective.

Keeping our focus on worship rather than on the pursuit of wealth is also a central tenet of Christianity. All four of the Gospels include the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers, who were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging foreign coins at exorbitant rates. In addition to taking advantage of poor pilgrims who had no choice but to accept their terms, the money changers turned the Temple into a marketplace rather than a place where people could meet and worship God. It is this perversion of sacred space – and subversion of sacred intent – that so incensed Jesus. This hadith and the Gospels seem to suggest that we cannot simultaneously be concerned with worldly commerce and religious reflection. As Amanda states, business isn’t bad. But our primary focus in a holy place must be the glory of God. How does our perspective change if we consider our lives a sacred space like the Temple, best suited for worshiping God instead of pursuing monetary gain?

Judaism is also rich in teachings and practices that guide us to conduct business in honest, respectable ways. Ideally, everything we do—including our monetary, worldly pursuits—is done with perfect kavanah (intention) and a spirit of holiness. But Judaism recognizes, too, that we humans are limited creatures, and it is all too easy for us to forget and go astray. Accordingly, many Jewish teachings and practices make a clear distinction between the holy and the ordinary—none more important, perhaps, than the practice of keeping Shabbat. On the ordinary days of the week—Sunday through Friday—we work and engage in worldly commerce; but on the Sabbath, we do not. On Shabbat, we are prohibited even from carrying money, in case having it handy would tempt us to spend it. The observance of Shabbat helps us more easily connect with God and the wonders of creation. This dedicated, holy time is designed to help us keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective, even during the other, ordinary days of the week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Take a Breath!

Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall cease, so that your ox and your donkey will rest, and the son of your maidservant and the sojourner will be refreshed.
Exodus 23:12
The observance of the Sabbath is mentioned in many verses of the Torah, but this one is my favorite.  It proposes that we stop working on the Sabbath not only to allow ourselves time to rest, but also to allow our work animals and laborers an opportunity to shore up their strength, because all living creatures need rest.  The biblical scholar Everett Fox translates the last word of this verse, vayinfash, as “pause-for-breath.”[1]  This definition of Sabbath rest resonates for me.  Since my college days, I have taken advantage of this weekly opportunity to turn off my phone and power down my computer, close my writer’s notebook and lock my car in the garage.  Through the years, people who learned of my strict observance of the Sabbath have asked me if it’s difficult not being able to do laundry or run errands on Saturday. It’s true that I have occasionally imagined being more productive by foregoing my Sabbath rest.  But these thoughts are fleeting.  Observing the Sabbath refreshes and recharges my spirit; this weekly commitment to pausing for breath has changed my life.

Christians share with Jews the scriptural commandment to honor the Sabbath. With numerous variations, we traditionally observe the Sabbath on Sunday, which we call “the Lord’s Day.” In communal worship, we understand the Sabbath as a “little Easter,” an experience of spiritual resurrection, refreshment, and renewal. I have to say, however, that the concept of physical rest, which Tziporah expresses in the pause-for-breath time she takes each week, is often lost in my own Sabbath practice. Tziporah’s example inspires me to realize my need to honor the “take a breath” in all its fullness. Taking Sunday (or another day) to “close down” and not just “rev up,” would enable me to express in practice my conviction that spiritual health is intimately linked to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being that God wants for all God’s people—and God’s creatures!

The Quran mentions the Sabbath as a commandment to the Jewish people.[2]  For Muslims, the essence of the Sabbath as a day for connecting with God has two aspects.  First, when practicing Muslims put on hold whatever they are doing and turn to God at different times throughout every day to perform their five prayers, they are observing an aspect of Sabbath.  In fact, the Arabic word for prayer is Salat, which means connection. Furthermore, Friday is a day that brings numerous purposeful actions, including the congregational sermon and communal Salat; during that time, Muslim men are prohibited from working. Friday is also a day for increased remembrance of God and reaching out to the community. The feeling that Tziporah describes as the fruit of her observance of the Sabbath is the same sense of peace I feel as an observant Muslim. This feeling is derived from the highest purpose a faithful person can have, and that is to obey the commands of God in order to seek His pleasure.

[1] This word, which appears only twice in the Torah, is also used in Exodus 31:17 to describe God’s taking a breath on the seventh day after completing the Creation.
[2] See 2:65, 4:47, 4:154, 7:163 and 16:124.