The Shelter of Shabbat
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein
The morning I wrote this greeting, I woke up very early. We had just concluded the final retreat for our second Clergy Leadership Program cohort and I was heading to the airport to return home for Shabbat. In the eastern sky there was the tiniest sliver of the crescent moon, just rising, heart-breakingly beautiful. It was just a few days before the month of Av began, with that same crescent moon setting in the west.
We are heading towards the end of the Three Weeks, the period between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, the season of loss and horror in our mythic history. It is the season of siege, deprivation, enormous suffering, terrible destruction and there are many traditional customs of mourning that mark this season.
In fact, the one thing during this period that continues to be a beacon of joy is Shabbat. It is worth asking, if the world is burning around us, how can we celebrate Shabbat? Shouldn’t we be dedicating ourselves towards fixing this world that is experiencing so much horror? How can we take the time to dedicate to spiritual practice?
One answer to this question comes from a Netivot Shalom teaching about Noah’s Ark that we studied at our retreat. The metaphor is different, but the question is the same: When the flood waters rise up around us, threatening to drown us, how do we survive? What do we do?
The Netivot Shalom suggests that Noah’s ark, that temporary shelter, is actually a hint towards the practice of Shabbat. Shabbat, he teaches, is nothing less than the connection between the heavenly realms and the earthly realms; it is God’s dwelling place on earth. It is a pinah tehorah, a pure little place, where we can take refuge.
I think this offers three insights that are especially important during times of destruction, remembered or present. If Shabbat is the connection between heaven and earth, taking refuge in Shabbat is not about closing ourselves off from the world, but rather about gaining a greater perspective. It is often true that suffering causes our perspective to narrow, which makes it more difficult to make wise decisions. If our practice on Shabbat can help us open back up to the larger picture, we might know how to respond better when we return to facing the world.
Also, when we are closed up in the ark, buffeted by wind and rain, temporarily safe from the destruction around us, we realize that there is a limit to how well we can steer the boat. Parker Palmer teaches that “functional atheism,” acting as if everything depends on us, is a shadow side to leadership. Shabbat reminds us that yes, when havdalah is over, we must go back to acting. But the world depends on more than just our own efforts. Shabbat helps us cultivate this deeper trust.
And finally, Shabbat offers us the inspiration to go back out into the world once the flood waters subside, having experienced a glimpse of that pure little place that the world can be. By rooting us in joy and peace, community and spaciousness, we remind ourselves what we are working towards.
Wishing you a Shabbat shalom, a beacon of joy during this dark time in our spiritual calendar.
Meditations for Shabbat
by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
If we look through the lens of Shabbat at ourselves, our world, and our lives, Shabbat is the harvest. It is the receiving. Shabbat is rest, repose, reflection, completion in the ongoing creative process. We recite the Shabbat prayer, Yismechu B’malechutecha—Let us rejoice in your realm, in your malchut. Malchut means kingdom or realm and in Jewish mysticism is identified with Shabbat.
“Let us rejoice in the malchut of malchut.” Let us rejoice in being present, right here — in being present to this moment.
Guided Kavanot for Candle Lighting
Guided Sitting Meditation for Shabbat
Please sit in a way that is both comfortable
and alert. Allow your eyes to close, softly.
Or keep them open and unfocussed. Start
to feel the natural rhythm of your breath.
Take a few deep breaths at first and then just notice
how the breath comes in naturally. Let yourself
become quiet and present.
Feel how your breathing moves gently and how its
movement can be sensed throughout your whole
body. Let yourself rest in this moment. Rest in the
natural peace and ease of the mind and body.
You might want to smile and open yourself in
acceptance of the shefa, the divine flow of light, the
abundance that fills and surrounds us.
Sitting is bowing to this moment of existence, to the
natural radiance of your heart, the natural beauty that
is right here and right now. If you forget, that is a signal
that you have remembered. When you remember that
you have forgotten, you are remembering.
Accept this moment as an expression of shlemut,
shalom, wholeness. Receive the Shabbat.
Bow to the radiance that is you. The Diamond.
(Opening paragraph and guided meditation replicated from “Practicing and Teaching Mindfulness in a Jewish Context”, by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg.)
Shabbat: A Shelter from the Storm
by Rabbi Jonathan Slater
What does it mean to be an adult? Among other things, it has to do with learning to control impulses to allow us to attain longer-term goals; learning to understand and feel responsible for the needs of others; letting go of childhood fantasies and misperceptions about how the world works for science, facts and reality. In the end, most people who have attained the chronological age called “adult” can perform these tasks, some of the time.
Yet, most of the time we wander around in a fantasy of our lives, dreaming about what could be or should have been; habitually reaching for something that will satisfy an inchoate desire; deny the reality of our circumstances so that we will not feel pain, or recognize the pain of others. The Netivot Shalom, R. Shalom Noach Berezovsky (the late Slonimer rebbe) likened this state to the primordial tohu vavohu, murky chaos that preceded Creation. Such confusion in life can only be clarified through yishuv hada’at, a settled mind. He further taught that spiritual practice – prayer, Torah study, the performance of the mitzvot, connection to community – are instrumental in cultivating yishuv hada’at. Of all the mitzvot, he regularly singles out the observance of Shabbat as uniquely suited to this task.
How so? Entering into Shabbat requires preparation. If nothing can be cooked or purchased on Shabbat, we have to think ahead to have what we’ll need. Shabbat relieves us of being distracted by the constant bombardment of media. Turning off the radio, unplugging from our phones, we give ourselves the time to reflect on our own experience, to ask “what is really true?” We provide ourselves with the space in which we can consider alternative answers to that question, to investigate where our blind-spots may be, where our preferences and prejudices lie. On Shabbat, we are offered the spaciousness of unoccupied time, so that we might look up from our self-concern to cultivate concern for others.
In his teaching on the story of Noah the Netivot Shalom likens Shabbat to the Ark that protected and saved Noah. He suggests that entering into Shabbat provides us with safety from the tohu vavohu of the Flood, rescue from confusion. All may be stormy and clouded outside, but we have an inner Ark of quiet, clarity and peace. In this, R. Shalom Noach reminds us of the safety and peace that we can cultivate in mindfulness meditation. That, too, can serve as an inner Ark; that, too, can provide us with moments of Shabbat in the midst of week-day floods. And, just as a moment of clarity is accessible with a mindful breath so, too, is a moment of Shabbat available. Cultivating these moments of Shabbat during the week will only strengthen our experience of them on Shabbat itself. However you may observe Shabbat, let it become a means to enter your own inner Ark. Let Shabbat be how you nurture yishuv hada’at, a settled, peaceful, awakened mind.
by Rabbi Miriam Margles
“By cultivating a personal practice, we are receiving the holy texts that we have inherited by making them wholly our own. ”
– Rabbi Shefa Gold
Click here to download a PDF of Shabbat Chants, composed by Rabbi Miriam Margles. Recordings can be found on YouTube, or you can create a chant of these words that feels connecting and meaningful for you.
Shabbat as Mindfulness Practice
by Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell
“There is a realm of time,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his classic book The Sabbath, “where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.” We might conceive of the Sabbath as one of the core Jewish mindfulness practices. Practicing mindfulness and the Sabbath go hand and hand. Like mindfulness meditation, observing Shabbat asks us to let go of something in order to have something greater: something deeper, less familiar, and more ultimate. It helps us tap into what we all yearn for: balance in our lives, completeness, peace, joy, connection and wholeness. Its value can only be known in the doing.