June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Which of the Aseret HaDibrot (10 commandments) came with a multiverse explanation in order to “sell” the idea to its followers? If you answered that it was the concept of resting on Shabbat you would be correct. First we are commanded to sanctify the Sabbath day by ceasing to work. Then the explanation continues, “For in six days Hashem made the heavens and the earth … and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it” (20:11).

The Ohr HaChaim explains that the prohibition of working on Shabbat is not dependent on how strenuous the activity might be but is measured in terms of productive accomplishment and creativity as defined by Halacha. So while we can strap a love seat to our back and carry it back and forth in our house all day long on Shabbat, we may be forbidden to carry a handkerchief from a private to a public domain.

Why is it necessary to convince people to rest, even for one day a week? Why do we need the rationale that Hashem Himself rested and that we should follow His example? Apparently, resting is not a value that society values. We often hear young adults starting their careers complain (and brag) about how hard they are working and how they have to multitask all day long. Attorneys and physicians will boast (and feign resentment) that they work at least 100 hours a week. You would be hard-pressed to hear anyone boast of how they got in a good nap that day. Even retirement is looked askance upon by those who have not reached their mid-60s. The idea of being non-productive makes people feel uneasy.

Yet, rest is certainly a concept that is valuable. If we miss one night of sleep we drag around the next day feeling miserable. So, resting one day a week starts to make sense. A writer once put it this way. Six days a week we work to change the world. One day a week we let the world change us.

There are various forms of rest and finding peace. First, we have to find peace within ourselves. To promote inner peace, religious Jews don’t use machinery and external sources of entertainment on the Sabbath. All week we engage with (and are often enslaved by) email, television, Facebook, news, chores, and cell phones. In the quiet that descends on Shabbat eve, we re-learn how to be still and rest by renewing our relationship with Hashem.

We also find peace between ourselves and others. We suddenly have enough time to invest in relationships. We are able to strengthen our ties with family and friends. In particular, the Sabbath meal allows time for uninterrupted conversation, with no one rushing off to make a call or keep an appointment.

The convenience and entertainment provided by smartphones and other modern communication technology can be a good thing—in moderation. But compulsive use of these devices has been linked with depression and anxiety, and it can distract you from more important things.

Technology can suck up your time and energy. An American Psychological Association study found that 43% of Americans are “constant checkers”—meaning that they continually look to their computers and phones for new information and messages. This degree of fixation could cause stress and anxiety—and distract from important daily tasks.

Relationships are important. Technology, particularly social media, can be a great way of staying connected with friends and loved ones who are far away. But it’s important not to let your use of technology distract you from relationships with close friends and family, or even your hobbies and personal interests.

Although we had the idea of unplugging from technology for one day a week first, there is a movement called “National Day of Unplugging” that will take place this year at sunset on March 5 (Friday night) until sunset on March 6. This holiday is observed in order to promote awareness of the benefits of a 24-hour period of respite from technology.

A few years ago, a phenomenon arose where young observant teenagers were unable to stop their use of smartphones and social media even for one day of Shabbat rest. This was referred to as observing “half-Shabbos.” Half Shabbos describes someone who observes all of the Sabbath regulations except one: using his or her smartphone to send text messages. Half Shabbos was viewed as a kind of glass being half full. After all, kids using their phones on Shabbat weren’t leaving the fold. As one teen told The New York Jewish Week in 2011, “I was not driving on Shabbat. I was not eating non-kosher. Just texting.” Of course the Agudath Israel and the Orthodox Union condemned this activity as not being acceptable. It was not maintaining the letter or the spirit of the law mandating rest on Shabbat.

I once knew an older Asian woman who explained how she could meditate and clear her mind of all thought for 30 minutes a day. I was amazed. I could not clear my mind for 30 seconds a day.

May we all learn to appreciate the proper function of rest that Shabbat promotes. May we learn to slow down, get back in touch with ourselves, our friends, our family and especially our God. We need time to recharge our physical and spiritual batteries. May Hashem bless us so that we continue to have the opportunity to do so for many years to come.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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