Yes, I’ve been having a lovely Sabbath

Being Jewish means that whatever you do, there will always be some fellow Jews who think you’re not observant enough, and some who think you’re way over the top.

I’ve been having a lovely, relaxing day today. A quiet day in. My husband’s been out so I’ve had the house to myself and I could use the dining table for my sudoku without worrying about being in his way. There’s a book I’ve been reading and got so near the end last night that I decided to sit down this afternoon and finish it – reading novels in daytime is something I don’t often do, so it felt like a special treat. I’ve chatted with friends a bit and enjoyed friendly banter. I feel recharged.

Apart from reading that book (and apart from my Bible reading), everything I’ve done today has been stuff that Orthodox Judaism regards as prohibited on the Sabbath: thou shalt not write (thus, no sudoku); thou shalt not use a computer (thus, no communication with my friends, as I talk to them online) (and no, they don’t allow using the phone either); thou shalt not microwave yummy things, or use your electric kettle to make coffee.

I recognise the good intentions behind these rules. I’m just glad I have the freedom to disregard them, and to work out for myself what is or isn’t helpful to me in resting and recharging.

If I chose to follow those rules, I’d have to forgo a whole load of stuff that helps me recharge – ok, sudoku isn’t crucial, but a whole day of not writing at all would be torture for me, not just because I am a writer and if I get an idea and don’t write it down it keeps nagging me for ages (and when it disappears, that’s really painful) but also because I use writing to actually think through things, I sit down with an initial thought and start putting it into words and through the process of writing, I work out what it’s all about. Like with this post, I didn’t know where I was going to go, I just had a starting point. I journal, and it’s a way I can get in touch with my feelings and work out what’s at the bottom of a problem, why it’s bothering me. For me to go without writing is very much like asking a fish to avoid touching water for a bit.

And why? Why on earth would anyone regard writing as work? I’m sure it was quite an effort in the days of carving letters into stone, but holding a pen is not a huge effort, nor is it an effort for me to type – I do remember the days when typing was hard work, when you had to hit the typewriter keys really hard, but with computer keyboards these days, and especially for someone who touch-types, it’s a walk in the park.

Talking of walks in the park – there’s a lovely place not that far from us where I always feel really peaceful, it’s a garden that’s open to the public and is full of beauty, and outside the garden there are these open fields and a gorgeous view. I go there now and again for a bit of recharging. It’s only ten minutes by car. But if I kept the rules of Orthodox Judaism, I could never go there on the Sabbath – not allowed to drive, you see.

It’s difficult for me to see that concept of Shabbat as something positive, because all I’m seeing is a whole load of Thou Shalt Nots. It would be different if the rules seemed to make sense, but they rule out so much of what I see as restful, relaxing, recharging – I think if I was observing Shabbat in that way, I’d feel like I can’t wait for it to be over so that I could do the things I enjoy… instead of sitting here now and feeling grateful for a lovely, restful pause.


P.S. From comments both here and on Google+ I have learned that the list of Thou Shalt Nots is based on a concept I hadn’t been aware of – it’s not just about what might or might not be hard work, it’s also about creative activity. In the beginning of Exodus 35 we’re told not to do any “melakha” (the Hebrew word translated as “work”) and the next thing is the instructions for making all the elements that would go towards creating the Tabernacle, and these activities are referred to as “melakha”. So now I understand better what the idea was behind this list. For myself, I need to chew on this for a while and pray, as I want to understand what the principle is that God was trying to convey here, and how I can apply it to my own life.


And another P.S.

1. I’ve been chatting with a rabbi on Google+ about this issue and apparently the traditional interpretation of the term “melakha” is that it is any of the 39 activities listed in the description of the preparation of the Tabernacle – so it is not “any creative activity”, it is anything that’s on that list. I have not studied the list.
2. Whether or not this interpretation is really how God meant it – I don’t know. I’m not convinced.
3. I’m not sure how much of this is relevant to people who aren’t Jewish.

Also, you may want to read my follow-up post on this issue.

32 thoughts on “Yes, I’ve been having a lovely Sabbath

  1. Shabbat Shalom, Meirav! I kind of understand how you feel. Lately, on sunday’s I feel like that. I havent been attending church in a while, but I was watching online however, recently I’m not even doing that! …. But on the other hand, many times, when I was attending, Sunday night, I would noticed that I havent read the Word or prayed. It is difficult to find the right balance without feeling guilty I’m not doing the right thing!

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    • Is this something you’d like to talk about privately? It sounds like you’re struggling with stuff, and I’d be happy to be a listening ear if this helps.

      (I have a Contact page here, in case you don’t have my email address yet.)

      (I might not be able to answer straight away though. Today and tomorrow are a bit crazy for me.)

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  2. For me there are two different things that go into Sabbath – (this doesn’t come from any orthodoxy or authority, just from my own thoughts) – one is resting, and the other is waiting for God… which is emphatically NOT restful.

    Resting for me often involves writing or taking photos or going for walks… but listening for God means that I deliberately make my own heart quiet – which often means resisting the impulse to write or draw or take pictures or whatever – trying to quiet the noisiness in my own heart. We need both. But I find it so much easier to fill every empty spot with my own chatter, my own observations, my own reflecting-back-to-God… rather than actually being still enough to HEAR him.

    CS Lewis said somewhere (rough paraphrase) that the most difficult part of every day for him was driving back the horde of thoughts that comes to him at the beginning of every day, all his ideas and goals and dreams and checklists… and listening for the still, small voice. That really resonated with me. It’s SO hard (and so unrestful!) for me to put down my pencil, my camera, my computer…. but for me it needs to be done for at least some of my Sabbath.

    I can understand why the rules were made… though like all the laws all they do is make us aware of our desire to do otherwise… I would love it if I were mentally/physically/emotionally ABLE to merely sit at Christ’s feet all day on the Sabbath. I’m not: I have children, and my attention span isn’t that long, and I’m out of shape spiritually – the best I can do is maybe five minutes at a time tops. And then, yes, I write and take pictures and take walks.

    And when the laundry pile in the bathroom gets too big, I often even do a load of laundry, which I confess I find more restful than being unable to close the bathroom door! Sigh. It isn’t ideal… it’s far from perfect, and far from the intention of the Sabbath. But heaping on the guilt isn’t what Christ intends… I think he just wants me to spend time in His presence and slowly be formed into the sort of person who (in Heaven if not before) can spend all day just in adoration of Christ.

    Meanwhile, I don’t think He minds me spending some restful time writing or doodling or whatever – as long as it doesn’t take His place!

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    • Interesting to hear you talk about waiting on God being non-restful. I guess we each experience these things differently.

      I do agree that writing can potentially get in the way of open communication lines with God – though sometimes I find it a helpful tool. Like a lot of things (most things?) it can be sometimes a help and sometimes a hindrance. I think it’s a good idea to set apart some specific God-time, and for people who lead a busy life during the week (I don’t) the Sabbath could be a time when they can do that more easily.

      The bottom line for me (and I think you see it the same way) is that we each need to work out the way that works best for us – and this is precisely what Orthodox Judaism doesn’t seem to allow. The rules are rigid and they are not focused on what would or wouldn’t be restful for each person, or what would or wouldn’t bring you closer to God – they are focused on detailing exactly what the rabbis believe to fall under certain categories of activity that they believe God has forbidden on the Sabbath. As you’ll from my friend mcellio’s comment (she knows a lot more about this stuff than I do), creative acts are forbidden too. This all makes me appreciate all the more the freedom that I have through my own rabbi, Jesus, who said that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way round.

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  3. While the word commonly used for shabbat prohibitions is “work”, it’s actually specific categories of work — creative acts that effect change in the world. (More specifically, the list is drawn from the activities that went into building the mishkan; even that holy task had to pause for a day a week.) So it’s not that a particular task is easy or hard; it’s about what it changes.

    That’s the high-level summary as I understand it, anyway. Whole shelf-fulls of books have been written on this topic…

    Anyway, I’m glad you found ways to rest and recharge that work for you!

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    • Thanks for that extra input – I really value being able to learn more about these issues, I grew up secular and my mum keeps only a very minimal part of the traditions. She lights the candels and won’t write on Shabbat, but that’s about it as far as Sabbath observance that I saw at home.

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    • ok, I’ve had a look at the text and I can see it now – the word “melakha” is clearly not just referring to “hard work” but to creative work. I need to chew on this. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

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  4. I posted a comment but WordPress then wanted me to log in and when I did it was gone. And the browser back button is disabled, so I can’t go back and get it. :-(

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      • big fat sigh. it sounds like “the rest” is so that all the Ns will sit on their hands for a day. whereas the Ss can “sense” away to their heart’s content.

        Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man (and woman) not the other way around. so i try to honor the sabbath by doing things that i prefer – gardening, writing, organizing my space. these are things that i often set aside the rest of the week because other things hold that “tyranny of the urgent” quality to them. i have to do them because someone wants them to be done. but on sunday i do things because God made me in such a way that i like doing, and relax doing, these other sabbathy things.

        God rested from creating the world. he stopped bringing something out of nothing and (i believe) that’s the point when he started tending and orchestrating and developing the stuff he’d already brought about. i don’t think he sat on his hands for a day. i think he changed his activity to something different. i do a certain kind of work all week. on sunday, i change to doing something different. it feels much less like work to me and much more like nourishing myself.

        ok, that’s my totally hebrew-ignorant two cents. ;-)

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        • The way you’re describing is very much how I’ve tended to view the whole Sabbath thing – doing things that I find relaxing/recharging and ignoring stuff that I feel is a chore.

          I’m not sure where the N/S difference fits in here though – can you help me understand the connection?

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          • N’s tend to grab a this and a that and a something else and put them all together to make something completely new. an S grabs things, in order, and stacks them, in order, into a pile. so what N’s do is more often considered to be “creating” while what an S does is much more like compiling or (if the person is an Se) experiencing.

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          • Ah! so it’s because I’m an N that I find the idea of a day of non-creativity so horrifying?

            (ok, layer #6 in threaded replies here looks ridiculous. I’m going to go change the settings so it will only go up to 5.)

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        • haha, I feel like the SJ’s would have a harder time than I would with “sitting on their hands”. They need to keep compulsively doing. They need to have everything done in order to rest. The SP’s, of course, could have fun as usual; I think they would have a harder time with the “six days you shall work” part of the commandment! ;o)

          But the question isn’t really “who is going to have a hard time with this command,” is it? Maybe extroverts have a harder time with “let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth” simply because more comes out of their mouth – or maybe thinkers have a harder time with “always making music in your heart” because they’re more in tune with the logic and thoughts of Christ than their feelings?

          We’re supposed to understand and obey the command. I don’t have a problem with the idea that this particular command might be harder for me than others… but the question still is, what is the Sabbath for, and why do we keep it? If we are, for whatever reason, supposed to refrain from creative work, then we should, even if it feels like it’s going to kill us.

          I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what it means as it relates to my creative work (hymn-writing, fabric design, photography.) Sometimes I’ve done it on Sunday and it’s felt refreshing; sometimes I’ve done it and it’s felt like it’s gotten in the way of my listening to God. Sometimes I’ve refrained, with the same mixed results. Our previous camp director (Dan D.) insisted that creative acts *should* be a part of the Sabbath. If I remember right, some of that thought came from Abraham Heschel’s book ‘The Sabbath’ which I read but don’t remember. I swung hard that direction and now I feel like I’m swinging back the other way. I should re-read the book.

          But I don’t know if my feelings ABOUT the command/rule have any bearings on an authentic interpretation of what Jesus intended…?

          For me the harder issue is understanding what it means to “be Mom” and celebrate Sabbath at the same time. I spend much of Sunday feeding my family and breaking up quarrels and listening to my kids… as I do most days. I could leave Daniel home with the kids and go have some “alone time” but somehow I’m not convinced that that’s really what’s always supposed to happen…

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          • Some things I feel I should mention here:
            1. I’ve been chatting with a rabbi on Google+ about this issue and apparently the traditional interpretation of the term “melakha” is that it is any of the 39 activities listed in the description of the preparation of the Tabernacle – so it is not “any creative activity”, it is anything that’s on that list. I have not studied the list.
            2. Whether or not this interpretation is really how God meant it – I don’t know. I’m not convinced.
            3. I’m not sure how much of this is relevant to people who aren’t Jewish.

            Also, I did do a follow-up post from this one a few days ago, which you may find interesting:
            https://meiravsblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/stop-doing-what-and-what-for/

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          • yeah – I don’t know either. But I get the sense that God still calls us (Christians) to have a Sabbath: a day of rest – a day of not working, not ‘striving’ – not trying to earn our salvation or His favor by our good deeds – not trying to earn our own way in the world. A sort of weekly fast from work, if you will. Not because we’re under law; certainly not in order to earn God’s favor or our salvation – but to remind ourselves that all good things come from Him.

            And for me a big part of trying to earn his favor or earn my salvation or earn my place in the church is through my creative works – my hymn writing, the constant “devotional narrative” that runs through my head and makes my life into an “example” when it should be a private walk with God.

            I know that when Christ came He changed our relationship to God; I know the old covenant was set aside, that I (as a Gentile especially) am not under Jewish law. But it still seems like comprehending the old covenant and the reasons behind it are an essential part of understanding the new covenant…. to be able to understand which parts of it Christ has fulfilled and therefore they are done (sacrifices, for example) and which parts are magnified by His coming (such as our being His chosen people.) Without understanding the law how could I possibly understand Christ?

            I think the command of the Sabbath is intended to bring freedom, in the same way fasting brings freedom from dependence on food. But I don’t want to fall into a lesser, less-true freedom by misunderstanding the purpose OF the Sabbath.

            And this probably looks really stupid too at level-five responding…. ;o)

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  5. I also found the postscript interesting. It led me to reflect on Gen 2:2-3
    “2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
    The scripture tells us not only that He rested ‘from all His work’ and ‘from all the work of creating’ – and the same word, melakha, is used there too, as it is in the Ten Commandments both in Exodus and Deuteronomy.
    However, in Ex 39:3, it refers to ‘…the work of a skilled craftsman…’ the word for work used is ‘maseh’, as it is in other similar contexts.
    But the Commandments’ injunction to refrain from ‘all work’ seems to be all embracing, which certainly is the way the rabbi’s traditionally have interpreted it.
    So, while the juxtaposition of those two parts in Ex 35 is interesting, I suggest the main ‘clue’ for the inclusion of creative activity within the definition of work lies in Gen 2.

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    • Good point about the whole thing starting in Genesis 2 (though that bit about “the work of creating” isn’t quite as clear in the original Hebrew – but I think that’s pretty much what is meant by the text) – and reinforced in the Ten Commandments – it’s about God pausing after creating the world, and yes, the word “melakha” is repeated in all these different places, I just hadn’t ever stopped to think what it meant, which is funny because we use it in that context in modern Hebrew too – at school we had a subject called “melakha” and it was sewing/knitting/embroidery for girls and woodwork for boys. It’s amazing how some seemingly obvious things can elude us for decades…

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      • When we make kiddush on Shabbat evening to sanctify the day, part of the text we say is Gen 2:1-3. We keep Shabbat because God said to, but we *also* keep it because God rested and so we should too. How did God rest? That’s how we should rest too. There’s obviously way more to it than that, but it’s a starting point.

        I didn’t know about the modern use of the word — thanks for that! What is “avodah” in modern Hebrew — labor but not necessarily creative work, like harvesting crops?

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        • The word “avodah” in modern Hebrew is used for work in the sense of what you do for a living – as in “going to work”, “I was at work”, “looking for work”, “having lots of work to do”; also in the sense of labour – “avodah kashah” is hard work, something that requires effort.

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  6. Pingback: Stop doing what? and what for? | Meirav's Blog

  7. (Apparently when comments get too deep the “reply” link goes away, so I’m posting a top-level comment instead of following your creativity thread.)

    The talmud derives 39 specific categories of work from the activities of building the mishkan. All of these are “creative” acts in the sense that they effect change in the world — writing, kindling fire, weaving, plowing, etc — but not everything that we would call “creative” is covered. In particular, your mind is free to wander. :-) I’m sorry if I gave an overly-restrictive impression!

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    • Thanks, that’s what I’ve finally understood – I realise that I simply ignored the 39-categories thing and jumped straight ahead to looking for general principles, because that’s how I tend to look at stuff, but that the traditional interpretation is more narrow and specific. I’m still not convinced that this is necessarily the right interpretation… but at least now I know where traditional Judaism stands on this, and am clearer about why there are some distinctions that seem bizarre to the uninitiated.

      P.S. yes, once comments get past the maximum depth level, there’s no “reply” link. one way round this is to reply to a previous level comment – I’ve seen people do that. I had to set the max to 5 because, as you see, it gets thinner and thinner and eventually you get just one or two words per line, which looks ridiculous and is difficult to read.

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  8. To elaborate on my comment that I’m not sure how much of this applies to people who aren’t Jewish:

    Looking at the comments by @weavingmajor and @barefootmeg and thinking aloud about what is going on in the conversations that evolved here (and because I know them both and know them to be Gentile Christians), here’s what I’m thinking:

    There is more than one question here, and for different people there are different questions – I wrote this post as part of my own attempts to understand what my own Sabbath should look like, and I’m Jewish and you’re not, so we can’t just talk as though God’s expectations of me are the same as his expectations of you. Looking at the Bible, I see God commanding my people to keep the Sabbath – and therefore I, as a Jew, need to try and understand what exactly God intended to command us and how this applies to me – but I do not see God commanding everyone else to keep the Sabbath. Of course there may be helpful stuff you can learn from what God said about it, but if you’re looking at God’s original intention then you need to bear in mind that this command was given not to individuals but to a nation as a whole, so it may not be so much about what each individual gets from it (though I think there are intended benefits to the individual too) as about what God can show the world through getting His Chosen People to behave in this particular, peculiar way – a whole nation downing tools for a day, a whole nation showing that we trust God to keep the world going while we stop doing stuff, showing that we trust God to provide what we need even though we don’t work for a living all hours of the day every day (see the Mannah story, how we were told not to go out gathering on Shabbat, and God provided enough for two days on the Friday and it didn’t go off), I think this is a big part of this command. (And remember this was radical at the time – today in the West people are used to having not just one day off from work but two, but it wasn’t always thus.)

    So what am I saying? The questions for me are not the same as the questions for Christians who are not Jewish – I’m part of a nation with a specific calling. We have much in common but there are also issues that are unique to my people. (And before anyone jumps in with that stuff about how in Christ there is no Greek nor Jew – that is about our status in God’s kingdom, it means we have equal rights as people who have been saved through faith in Jesus, it does not mean we lose our unique identity. The same verse goes on to say “no male nor female” but I don’t see women losing their femininity when they become Christians.)

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  9. OK, I guess I didn’t get that. And as a Gentile I probably won’t, since i see the world so differently. I had thought of the church-universal as filling the role now which the nation of Israel filled in the old testament; that we as gentile Christians are the “branches grafted in” while other branches were broken off to make room for me – that now our job together as Jewish-and-Gentile-believers is to be the “peculiar people” – that we are both together called to be the set-apart people; that I’m still called to the same obedience (the same rest) as a Gentile as a Jew would be called, even if it looks slightly different. But maybe as a Gentile I don’t really understand at all. So there are parts of following God which I am exempted or excluded from because I am Gentile?

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    • I think it’s both/and – yes, in a similar way to the Jewish nation, the body of believers in Jesus is *also* called to be holy, set apart for God; and expected to obey God, certainly, but you as a Gentile are not expected to obey all those things which God commanded us Jews. The early church discussed this issue and agreed not to ask Gentiles to take on more than a few basic things, and unless I’m misremembering, those things did not include the Sabbath. There’s nothing to say you can’t derive some good and helpful principles from what you read in the Bible about what God commanded us, the Jews – all Scripture is God-breathed and useful etc. But I think you need to bear in mind that it’s not stuff that God commanded you. So I don’t think that for you observing the Sabbath is about *obedience*, because you weren’t actually commanded to observe it. It can be about a whole load of other stuff that is good and helpful – I believe it’s good for us to have some regular rest time, and possibly a discipline of laying down those things that get in the way of our faith walk; there’s all sorts of good things you can get from the concept of Shabbat, but you don’t need to struggle with the issues I’m wrestling with, the issues of what exactly did God intend to command the people of Israel about the Sabbath, and how/to what extent/in what way I, as a Jew who believes in Jesus, should apply this to my own life.

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      • Well, it isn’t stuff God commanded us, and yet it is. John 15:10 – “if you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” There’s stuff that we’re commanded to do and I think they’re applicable no matter what your religious/cultural origin. If you’re following Jesus, you do these things.

        What meat should we eat was shown to be culturally (and convictionally) determined. There is no law for the Gentiles regarding what meat we eat.

        But I think a command like the one regarding the Sabbath, something that was included in the 10 commandments, that still stands. We understand that it’s not how we’re saved. But we’re still expected to obey.

        If the purpose of keeping the Sabbath is entirely cultural, then it makes sense to understand the cultural parameters. I think that as Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, there’s another component that has more to do with obedience to God and an understanding that the law was made for our benefit (though it became a curse). The parameters around that discussion might be very different than the parameters around the cultural discussion.

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  10. huh – that’s fascinating – I have ALWAYS assumed (since I began thinking about Christianity for myself) that I was, and all other Christians were, supposed to have a Sabbath – I guess since it was part of the ten commandments and I wouldn’t question any of the other nine commandments as being requirements for me!

    Not in terms of legalistic righteousness (“do this or you’ll die”) but in terms of obedience anyways – a Sabbath (even if I’m not sure of the details of what it means) being a necessary setting of the stage for really being able to listen to God in order to follow Him, and also necessary for relying on Him rather than on my own power.

    I’ll have to ponder that. Not so much for my own obedience (I already know I need it) but in terms of the unspoken expectations I might be wrongfully laying on my fellow believers, or what I might be communicating to anyone I deliberately or unintentionally disciple… hmm.

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