This week I was learning, through Skype, with my study partner/hevruta/חברותה (Rabbi Rami Schwartzer--some of you may have met him over Shmini Atzeret and Simhat Torah), and I was lamenting how many Jews, oddly, in my opinion, sought a Jewish life steeped in sadness. Everything was about grief and struggle. For sure these feelings are a part of life, but this should not be the ideal, and certainly not the main avenue used to travel through life. I mentioned to my friend, “this isn’t what this is supposed to be about! There are way more feast days than fast days in the Jewish calendar!” Without skipping a beat, Rabbi Rami responded to me, “there are fifty-two of them to be exact.” Now, I am not a mathematician (I got into this business for many reasons, but one was that I was told that there would be no math!), but fifty-two seemed like a high number to me. So, I asked, “Fifty-two?!?” Then, his smile came through on my computer screen and he told me, “yes, that is how many Shabboses we have.” I had been thinking about “major” holidays when I made my “feast day” comment, but, he was totally right when he counted the way that he did.
The highlight of last week’s Parsha was the giving and receiving of the Ten Commandments. In them, we are commanded to “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God/זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ. שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל-מְלַאכְתֶּךָ. וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי--שַׁבָּת לַה’ אֱלֹקיךָ”(Ex. 20: 7-9). And in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Mishpatim, we are given an explanation for this command. “For six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and...be refreshed/שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת--לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ שׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרֶךָ וְיִנָּפֵשׁ...” (Ex. 23:12).
The Sfas Emes teaches that this rest on Shabbat, the cessation of mundane action is what allows for the rest of the week to exist. Shabbat is supposed to be a taste of the next world/m’ein olam ha’ba/מעין עולם הבא. So, the Sfas Emes asks, how could it be possible to receive illumination in this world that comes from the next world? They are opposites that would appear difficult to mix. One way to look at this is to say that we work hard all week, in this world, and then we are rewarded with Shabbat to rest and spend time together in peace. That this is the meaning of the verse, “As a lily among brambles/כְּשׁוֹשַׁנָּה בֵּין הַחוֹחִים” (Song of Songs 2:2). All week, we work hard to find those beautiful flowers in our world, so that when Shabbat comes, we have a bouquet ready to enjoy. The problem is, how do we know how to find these holy sparks, these beautiful buds? By resting and enjoying Shabbat--coming to shul, eating meals and spending time with family and friends, studying Torah--it changes the way that we look at the world. Those moments of paradise teach us what a spiritual life can be. And when Shabbat ends, our ability to see beyond the mundane has improved. The intermission of Shabbat gives us the strength to do our work, which is uncover the Divine during the days of the week so that everyone can see it.
Often, I think of the week as leading up to Shabbos--that Shabbos is the pinnacle that I must work up towards. And there is plenty of truth in that. But this week, I am hoping that we can see Shabbat as only the beginning. Let us focus on what we love about Shabbat and gain from it. How can we see that during the week? Our challenge is to bring our Shabbos reality into the rest of our lives. If we can do that, than the number of feast days will only go up.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.