The heart of parashat emor is a journey through the Jewish sacred calendar. It is a journey built, of course it is, off the foundation of the Shabbat – ‘for six days you shall do work but the seventh day shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion, you shall not work.’
A member of longstanding told me a new version of a tale I have heard a number of times about our founding Rabbi. They used to live near to Rabbi Jacobs and when the young-adult son was tinkering with his car on a Saturday as Rabbi Jacobs would be walking back from shul, Rabbi Jacobs would cross over the road and then cross back again in order not to walk past the ‘mahalel shabbat’ – the profaner of Shabbat – for fear of causing him embarrassment. The tale captures much of what was great about Rabbi Jacobs, but it also captures many of failures of our community these past forty-some years; concepts central to the Jewish tradition – growth, development, observance … were peripheral at best. Of course we don’t want to become a community of judgemental pedants, but if we turn a blind eye to every fracture of the fabric of Shabbat we lose the greatest treasure we, as Jews, possess. So what should a Rabbi of New London say when they see a phone being used in Shul, when they are passed by a congregant coming out of a shop on Shabbat? It’s easy to be patronising, it’s easy to be offensive, it’s easy to feel that, as a gate-keeper and evangelist for Jewish observance, the Rabbi should always duck and hide. But all these easy options are deeply flawed.
Maybe the answer lies in speaking more passionately about why the observance of Shabbat matters, even in 2009, especially in 2009. Let me share this from Heschel’s The Sabbath;
He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.
Or maybe the answer lies in my being clearer about what it might take, to become more serious about Shabbat. Let me share this recession busting, eco-friendly, soul-saving tip for Shabbat this week;
Turn things off; the computer, the mobile phone, the stereo, the rooter, the background buzz of electrical noise that suffuses our work lives. Just for a day, from half-past eight tonight to quarter to nine tomorrow. And listen to real people and yourself.