The difference between the weekday and the Sabbath in my home represents a stark contrast between a fast-paced life of noise and chaos and a life of silence, restfulness, and mindfulness.
Let me explain.
When I was a young, the afternoon before the Sabbath was particularly hectic. Preparations for the Sabbath consisted of my mother cooking, buying groceries, getting money from the bank, and watching my siblings and our many friends run around in circles.
So, as the door opened and closed, we piled up with our friends up at the kitchen table, creating a huge mess. It became a tradition at this time to make my brother laugh so whatever he was drinking would eventually come out of his nose.
To add to the drama, Sabbath was only a few hours away and there was so much more cleaning and cooking to do. Every week, my family hosted about 18 guests for each meal, so my mom would need to cook for over 30 people throughout the Sabbath. With only a few hours left until the Sabbath began, it was hard to imagine this stressful reality would ever take a turn for the better.
Then, magically, everything would suddenly fall into place. The noise began to dissipate as my mother and sister would stop whatever they were doing and light the Shabbat candles, ushering in the holy Sabbath. I would go to shul with my father and siblings, welcoming in the day of rest through prayer and dance.
When we returned, our home was a clean, transformed palace and my Mom’s face was lit up with joy and serenity. She would kiss me on my cheek and gently say the words, "Shabbat Shalom." I would look around with complacency as I breathed in the refreshing air of Shabbat. A few moments later, we were sitting at the Shabbat table without work on our minds or phones in our hands.
After an exhausting week of homework, school and work, we were finally able to be together, completely present in the moment.
Sabbath Vs Weekday
This uniqueness of the Sabbath in comparison to the weekdays can be characterized as the difference between one who is doing and someone who is simply ‘being’ in the moment. This difference is expressed in the various types of activities that are not performed on the Sabbath but that fill up one’s entire working week.
On weekdays, we go to work. On the Sabbath, we stay home. In fact, keeping the Sabbath consists of mostly negative actions. This is because the point of the Sabbath is that there be one day not to do. God created a day of rest, a day not to conquer, and not to be distracted by the need of doing. This day of negation is the day where we can reap the benefits of nature, friends, and family through consciously being attentive and fully aware of their presence.
During the weekdays, we can prepare for the moments of Sabbath, while during the Sabbath itself, we simply exist in the moment. This preparation is accomplished through cooking, cleaning, and even praying. On each weekday, there is a specific prayer that reminds us of the upcoming Shabbat.
This key difference between doing and being can also be experienced in the practice of mindfulness, an experience in which someone exists solely in the moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a central figure in spreading mindfulness to the western world, defined mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.”
This definition is so relevant to the day of the Sabbath, given that one of the core principles of mindfulness is about being in the ‘present moment.’
Mindfulness and Awareness
One way of practicing mindfulness specifically on the Sabbath is through eating with awareness. You may find enjoyment from your food’s flavor, texture, and smell by simply placing yourself in the moment of eating. Food is something common in our day to day lives. So common, in fact, that we often forget to savor and enjoy it properly.
The Sabbath is a day full of food, and the point is not to simply cram food down your throat, but rather to mindfully be aware of its source and connect it back to its creator.
According to the Medical Daily Article called "Mindfulness Vs Meditation," meditation was originally about transcending one's emotions to live in a calm state. What better way to transcend one's emotions than through controlling our eating, a desire that we often feel controls us?
Being in the present moment through attention is integral to both mindfulness and the Sabbath. As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains in his book Sabbath a Day of Rest, “work in the Sabbath sense is an act that shows man’s mastery over the world by means of intelligence and skill, rest in the Sabbath sense is not interfering with nature or exhibiting mastery over it. It is a state of peace between man and nature." In other words, the Sabbath is not about interfering or trying to change nature, rather, it’s about being in the moment with nature and becoming mindful of its beauty.
The verse in Genesis states, “by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” Aryeh Kaplan explains that this verse refers to the curse against Adam for sinning against God. God cursed man that he must work for his food, that he must dominate nature to survive and eat. Ultimately this dominance forces man to conquer and relinquish his energy over nature.
But once a week on the Sabbath, man is freed from his need to dominate nature and is freed from nature’s control over man. On the Sabbath, man is freed from needing to enforce mastery. Ultimately, this one-day man can sing in harmony with his world and no longer needs to battle with it.
On the Sabbath, you can simply be in the moment reaping the benefits of your intimate relationship with your family and the Creator himself.
Having grown up in a fast-paced technological era, both mindfulness and the Sabbath have been anchors for my life and for the lives of so many others across the world. The ability to be present and receive all of our blessings in a calm and peaceful fashion, like we do on the Sabbath, is something that I hope we can instill into all seven days of the week.
Yosef Wildes is a Senior at Yeshiva University, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Creative Writing. He also serves as an Educational Programmer for New England NCSY. Yosef regularly practices yoga and meditation, and is a singer/songwriter about to release his first recorded song and music video. He leads meditation seminars, has a love for the mystical teachings of the Torah, and appreciates seeing the connection between secular and Jewish wisdom. Yosef was the Wisdom Tribe intern for the summer of 2019. You can contact him here