June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Asher had been waiting for this moment all week. Ever since his class started learning about the laws of Shabbat on Monday, his shoulder had been twitching, waiting to shoot his hand into the air. He had not asked to leave the room once during this time, even when his nose started bleeding like he’d been punched (rest in peace, Asher’s sweatshirt). He expected to have his chance earlier—Tuesday at the latest—but for whatever reason, Rabbi Pringle didn’t bring this point up until now. “He was probably waiting for me to leave the class or get sick,” thought Asher. “I saw the way he was begging me to go to the nurse when my nose was bleeding. Sorry, Rabbi P.” Yes, Asher was that kid. The one who always thought he had the question that would stump his teachers, the one who thought any response was an “excuse” and “made up.”

Well, now there was no escaping the metal trap that was Asher’s mind. He knew these were the last 10 minutes of Halacha class for the week, and no way was Rabbi Pringle going to head into the weekend without talking about the “Day of Rest.” Asher was right about this last point; the rest of it, not so much. Rabbi Pringle cleared his throat and began. “Class, before we break for the week, we still have to discuss the purpose of Shabbat. Why do we have all these laws on Shabbat? Why all the things we can’t do?” Before he knew what he was doing, Asher’s hand shot into the air. “Yes, Asher. Go ahead.” Asher stood up, stuck his hands out in a questioning pose, and began his accusation. “If it’s supposed to be a day of rest, why—” Not realizing Asher had more to say (or maybe because he knew he did), Rabbi Pringle responded immediately. “Excellent, Asher. It’s meant to be a day of rest.” Anyone else have something to add? “But,” began Asher. However, at that moment, the fire alarm sounded, beginning the fire drill scheduled for that day.

Of course, Asher could have bugged Rabbi Pringle with his question during the fire drill, but everyone and their goldfish knows you never talk during a fire drill. Asher also could have asked Rabbi Pringle his question after the drill and before next class, but then his classmates wouldn’t get to hear how smart Asher was. Nope, this would have to wait for Monday. Meanwhile, Asher carried on with the rest of his week and, like all children, looked forward to Shabbat (okay, and Sunday).

The next day, Asher asked a few of his friends if they wanted to make plans over the weekend. Shabbat didn’t work out, so they decided to get together on Sunday. None of them had particular ideas about what to do, so Asher invited them over. “Guys, it’s been a while since we just chilled. Let’s get together at my house and just hang out.” They agreed and the plans (or lack of plans) were set.

Asher was really looking forward to Sunday. He had been so busy at school (seventh grade can be really tough), and it felt like he hadn’t even spoken to most of his friends in weeks. He was hoping they could sit in the backyard, joke around, play a little ball and just chill. Unfortunately, this was not what his friends had in mind. They showed up around the same time (11:00 a.m.), and once all four friends arrived, the questions started. “So, what do you guys want to do?” asked Jake. “Walk to pizza? Go bowling?” Akiva thought that was a good idea, but Jon wasn’t interested. “I’m so sick of pizza and bowling.” He held up his bag. “Let’s play some video games. I brought my Switch.” Jake shook his head, but Leo agreed with Akiva. “I’m totally in the mood for video games. I just want to shut my brain off and play!” Tzvi didn’t want to do either but preferred Jake’s idea.

Now, all four boys looked at Asher. “Well dude, it’s up to you. Asher, you are the tiebreaker. Video games or pizza and bowling?” Asher frowned. “Guys, I invited you here to chill. That’s what we all agreed upon. I don’t want to play video games or go bowling. I just want to hang out here.” Leo was the first to speak up. “Asher, you said ‘chill.’ Playing video games is chilling. Bowling is chilling. Going for pizza is chilling.” The other boys nodded in agreement. “Forget it,” Asher said, with disappointment in his voice. “You guys go ahead. I’ll just hang here and read. That’s what I need right now.” The boys looked at each other and shrugged. “Suit yourself. See you later.” With that, Jake and Tzvi headed off to the pizza store, while Akiva and Leo headed to Akiva’s to play Super Smash Bros.

Thirty minutes later, Asher’s older sister stepped out into the backyard to see Asher reading on the hammock. “What’s going on, Ash? I thought your friends were coming over?” Asher looked up from his book, and explained to his sister what happened. She listened carefully, and when Asher was done, offered her own thoughts. “That scene is definitely familiar to me. When I was your age, my friends and I had the same issue. We would agree and what to do, but sometimes the plans meant five different things to five different people. It’s cool for people to think the same way, but it can definitely get in the way. Anyway, you seem comfy there; let me make you some lunch.”

Asher spent the next few hours chilling with his sister (they shared the same definition of the word), and really ended up enjoying his day. However, something kept nagging him in the back of his mind. Asher couldn’t exactly figure it out, but it seemed like his brain was trying to tell him something. Finally, on Monday, Asher realized what it was. When Halacha class began, Rabbi Pringle picked up where they had left off on Thursday. “Before that rude fire alarm interrupted our discussion, we were discussing how the point of hilchot Shabbat is to help us create a Day of Rest. Asher, you shared that idea, but I feel like you had something to add. What was it?” Asher smirked. “Nope, Rabbi P. I don’t have anything.”

However, another boy was flapping his arm like a dizzy eagle. “Yes, Jake?” Jake lowered his hand. “If Shabbat is supposed to be a day of rest, why do we all have the same rules? Why can’t I rest the way I want to? What if an activity that is relaxing for you isn’t relaxing for me?” Before his rebbe could answer, Asher’s hand shot into the air. Rabbi Pringle called on him to speak. “Well, Jake,” began Asher. “If each person got to decide what resting, or chilling meant…”

In this week’s parsha Moshe gathers all the Jewish people to tell them about the Mishkan. But first, we hear about Shabbat. This teaches us that all the actions done to build the Mishkan are the actions we cannot do on Shabbat. Why do we need specific rules about how to rest? Why can’t each of us rest how we want? The answer is, as Asher learned, that Shabbat is meant to bring us together as a community. If each person could choose how to keep Shabbat, it would not accomplish this goal. Only by putting aside our own ideas can we truly experience Shabbat as Hashem intended.


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at [email protected].

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