Friday, January 28, 2011

Special day remains spiritual gift for some

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts (IJS&F). Today let’s explore a spiritual gift that we often ignore.

Shabbat is a restful, peaceful day, a spiritual time offered up as a gift. The yin and yang of it all is detailed in the Torah and you might recall that observing this special day is one of the Ten Commandments.

Once upon a time the faithful paid close attention to the Sabbath – doing no work, attending religious services of some sort, spending time with family and friends. There was much that was good about this and, unfortunately, some bad. Across the Land of Cotton a series of draconian measures – collectively they were known as Blue Laws – detailed what could and, mostly, couldn’t be done on the Sabbath.

On the Lord’s Day, there was to be no work – or, ah, play. So most businesses, movie houses, theaters, restaurants and, of course, bars and cafes were shuttered. The problem is the Lord’s Day was Sunday and all Jews and some Christians were just about certain that the real Sabbath fell on Saturday!

There was also that little problem of Church and State – they were meant to be separate, here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Our legislators eventually got that part right and most Blues Laws were repealed years ago. In fact, about the only such laws remaining on the books have to do with the selling of booze on Sunday – bizarre, but still part of the fabric of life in the Land of Cotton.

I offer up this little history lesson only as preamble, detailing what was once the norm, but now apparently is cause to toss out the baby with the bathwater. Today, Shabbat is just another day. No matter one’s religion, Saturday and Sunday are days like all the rest, a time to work, play, shop and, if we find the time, rest!

There are those among us, however, who pay special attention to the Sabbath – if Jewish, they are said to be Shomer Shabbas, Guardians of the Sabbath. From Friday night until three stars appear in the evening sky a day later, they do little work, hunkering down in their homes and communities to mostly pray and study; eat, nap and spend time with family and friends.

In fact, they sort of do on Shabbat what most of us in the Land of Cotton found ourselves doing for several days earlier this month. If you recall, we had a little winter storm – snow, ice, sleet and freezing rain – that lingered across the region for a week. Many of us found ourselves stranded in our homes, unable to make it out of our neighborhoods.

That first day was fun and unique, not unlike Shabbat. It was a special day when mom, dad and the kids were forced to figure out creative ways to spend some quality time together. A feature story by a friend of mine still working for that place with the printing press, reported that all this togetherness was a good thing.

Families found that they could actually do stuff together – share a meal, build a snowman, sit together in the den and, um, talk. I imagine a few folks even prayed. The details were different, but the ambiance was pure Shabbat.

Even when it’s forced, it’s nice to know that ancient rituals are often about truth and the human condition. Our ancestors knew that it was important that we take a moment each week to break away from the mundane and explore the mysterious, spend time with one another and renew connections.

Wintry weather offers such opportunities. So, too, Shabbat!

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