As the Book of Exodus begins to conclude we come this week to a double portion. It begins with Moses calling the people together and right away he speaks of the things that the people are commanded to do. The very first is “On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to God, whoever does any work on it shall be put to death”. (Exodus 35:2) Well, that is pretty stark! Observe shabbat or die! No, the problem is that many who are reading this do not observe the sabbath as outlined in Torah and subsequent commentaries. Yet, there is no authority to put us to death. And is that not somewhat of a harsh punishment?
So, we have here one of the many instances where tradition finds a way to reinterpret the literal text. A series of commentaries in the major Torah commentary of the Conservative movement, “Etz Chaim”, quotes a few sources on this text and in doing so, I think offers to us a wonderful lesson. Quoting a famous commentator, Eybeschutz, “Etz Chaim” notes that he understood these words to mean “that those who ignore Shabbat forfeit their souls. That is , they become dead to the spiritual dimension of life”. What can this mean for us?
So many Boomers are coming to realize that for years they have ignored the meaning of the sacred and the centrality of the concept of Shabbat. Let me suggest, building on this text and comment, that there is a growing need in all of our lives for Shabbat. Not necessarily the “day”, because so many of us lead lives that are fluid and changing, rather, the need for time in our lives when we stop, let our lives rest and our souls accept the relationships we have with that which is beyond our own self. Why are so many Boomers engaged in “giving back” to their community? They take time to change course and become open to a meaning beyond the self. This is, in a way, Shabbat. It is a pause in the routine of life, a rest from the everyday which allows for the soul to expand and grow and for a person to be in touch with their own sense of true self. Some do it daily, via prayer or meditation, some do it on a fixed day. It matters not. What the text is telling us, and much of tradition, is that without this change of pace, we burn out and our soul dies.
Rabbi Richard F Addres, D.Min