Shabbat in a Fast-Paced World

I have a confession. I had intended to post this blog on Friday, but I’m only getting around to it today tonight. I have just felt so busy this week.

We live in a culture of busy. I hate it that when people ask me how I am, I often answer “busy.” In 2012, Tim Krieder wrote a much-circulated piece in The New York Times about “The ‘Busy’ Trap” – and why we fall into it. He suggested there that being busy all the time “serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.” So, am I actually busy? Or is feeling busy serving another purpose? Or is busyness simply trendy these days?

To answer this question, I remind myself that while I tend to think of my calendar as a list of what I need to do in a day, the reality is that our calendars are expressions of our values. What we decide to put on our calendars is just as important as what we decide to not put on our calendars. We all have limited time, and how we choose to spend it is up to us.

I try hard to defy the busy, because I find that when I create space in my calendar, I can pause more often, minimize distractions, and be more present.

Jewish tradition has long recognized that we can show up somewhere and still not be present – if our mind is elsewhere. In the Torah, when God calls Moses up to Mount Sinai, he says “come up the mountain to Me and be there” (Exodus 24:12). Given how sparingly the Hebrew Bible uses words, readers throughout generations have been struck by the apparent redundancy in this sentence. Once Moses comes up the mountain, where could he possibly be other than there? The 19th century Kotzker Rebbe pointed out that from this redundancy we find proof that even one who works to ascend a high mountaintop, and meets success, may still not be there. In other words, Moses, like us, could be standing on the peak of a mountain even when his head is elsewhere.

In our busy lives, it is often so hard to get our heads in the right place – to be fully present in our fast-paced world. Judaism, of course, has a wonderful invention which allows us to slow down and be present: Shabbat. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel considered Shabbat not to be a sanctuary in space, but rather a sanctuary in time. While many of us associate Shabbat with going to synagogue and/or having a nice home-cooked meal with candles, challah, and wine (or juice), I think of Shabbat more broadly as well. While Friday night Shabbat experiences are powerful, I also seek to adapt the concept to other times in my week as well, finding time hopefully each day – and not just each week – to dedicate to pausing, to focusing, and to emerging refreshed.

One of my favorite quotes is not from a great rabbinic text (though I have those favorites as well). This quote is from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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