Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Time set aside for the soul-Letters from a Rabbi

Every Friday afternoon, the rabbis on both campuses visit residents to make Kiddush. The whole ceremony is aimed at giving warmth, joy and a sense of community as we welcome Shabbat. The actual "Kiddush" (the word means "making holy") is the part of the ceremony recited over wine or grape juice; it is about thanking God for giving us this holy day. What is a holy day? I want to suggest it is time set aside for the soul.

The Jewish tradition gives us lots of these holy days — days when, if we allow it, the rhythm of our life changes. The basic model for the Jewish holy day is Shabbat (the Sabbath) which comes every seven days; that's about 52 Sabbaths every year. In addition, there are 13 days on the Jewish Holidays, some solemn, some days of celebration, which Torah tells us are to be days of rest, just like Shabbat. That adds up to 65 holy days a year — more than two months in every twelve!

In a world where so much emphasis is placed on achieving and being productive, it might seem terribly wasteful to have all those days when we are supposed to stop achieving, stop being productive, in effect stop doing, and instead just be. Jewish tradition gives us these days — Shabbat in particular — as days when we should be free of productive work. If we look at the Ten Commandments, it becomes clear that all people, and indeed working animals too, need time (at least one day in every seven) to rest. What a major contribution to society the Sabbath was; and we are still feeling the benefits today!

One resident, talking about the requirement in the Jewish tradition that we should not work on Shabbat, said to me: "But that's all very well, Rabbi! Many people have to work on Saturday, their livelihood depends on it." Yes, I know and respect that. My own father, who kept Shabbat much of the year, would nevertheless go to work on Saturdays in the months of October to December, as he was in the toy trade and that was the vital and busy time for his business.

As important as Shabbat and the other holy days are, what I think is equally important is the lesson they teach us: that stopping and being are absolutely essential to us. But it isn't just that weary bodies need and deserve rest. So do souls. Whether or not we observe the traditional Jewish days of rest, it is so important to spend time away from the tasks and the worries of everyday life, and instead give ourselves the opportunity to feed our souls, so that we are spiritually enriched, renewed, even re-created. Isn't that what the word recreation means?

Whether we make space for ourselves on the days our tradition offers, or at other times, that space is so essential. I talked about this in my resident groups. Outside the world of prayer (I believe that prayer is wonderful nourishment for the soul), I think my own favorite ways of replenishing (or re-creating) myself are walking in nature and listening to classical music. Residents said that activities like these can "calm the spirit"; and "let you know what is important".

We can lose ourselves in so many ways: playing or listening to music; painting or pottery or other arts and crafts; wandering in nature among trees and sky, hills and valleys; reading a good book; song and prayer… What do I mean lose ourselves? I think that (if we are fortunate) we step aside from every-day worries and concerns, and from the busy-ness of our minds; it's as though we are lost in a deeper part of ourselves. But in an important way, we also find ourselves. We know who we are, and sometimes we may feel the closeness of God. What a blessing!

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman is the Skirball Director of Spiritual Life at the Jewish Home and also serves as Rabbi of the Home's Grancell Village campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

Labels: , , , ,