A Spiritual Shabbat Orientation

How to achieve that extra measure of soulfulness that marks the Sabbath.


Reprinted with permission from A Book of Life (Schocken Books).

Beyond the specific rituals and practices [of Shabbat] lies the question of how we orient ourselves for Shabbat, a time of rest and renewal, a time for pleasure and the growth of the spirit. The tradition tells us that on Shabbat we are given an extra soul, a neshamah yeteirah. One understanding of this notion is that Shabbat enables us to have more of a sense of soulfulness. This can be created in a number of simple ways.

Slow Down

For one thing, our pace on Shabbat can be different from that of the week. Setting aside work, commitments, and responsibilities, there is no reason not to take a leisurely pace on Shabbat. Traditionally, it is forbidden to run on Shabbat. It is too work-like. Slow down. Walk. Have a leisurely breakfast. Spend time with those in your life with whom you are mostly passing ships during the week.

spiritual shabbatIt is particularly helpful to begin Shabbat with a different pace. Often because of Shabbat preparation, the time before Shabbat begins can be hectic, getting everything ready to meet his last deadline of the week. As Shabbat starts, change your pace. When walking to synagogue (even if from the parking lot to the synagogue’s door), stroll rather than walking briskly. One Hasidic rebbe was known to circle the synagogue seven times on Friday night before entering to prepare himself for the onset of Shabbat.

Slowing our pace can also help as we strive to be more aware — aware of the world, of the people in our lives, of ourselves. Ultimately it can bring an awareness of all the gifts that God has given to each of us. Being mindful of God’s gifts can lead to a mindfulness about the Presence of God, thus bringing us to a place where we fulfill the verse Shiviti YHVH le-negdi tamid, “I have placed God before me always” (Psalm 16:8).

Make It Different

Make Shabbat different by what you do. Reserve some special things that you do only on Shabbat. Let your conversation be different on Shabbat. Do not talk about weekday matters, especially work-related things. Do not use Shabbat to plan for things that are to happen during the week. Do not let the stress and obligations of the week creep into Shabbat, whether in thought or in speech.

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Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

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