Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shabbat Begins With or Without Us.

Something is Bigger than Your Schedule.

This March 8th, B'nai Shalom will begin holding Friday evening services at Candle Lighting time each week.  Why?

One of the great innovations of Judaism in the earliest Biblical period was the concept of a 7 day week.  No other civilization at the time, even in the lands of Canaan or Babylonia, operated their calendar this way.  Time was broken into lunar months, which might be 28, 29, 30 or 31 days based on the observation of the phases of the moon.  Seasonal festivals were not linked to those months, but followed the ripening of the grain and the fertility of the flocks. But Judaism took those lunar and agricultural experiences, and shaped them into a calendar of weeks.  Why?

Something is bigger than you, and it is bigger than nature. The experience of holiness, the Sacred, or God is that very something, and it transforms time and transcends nature. By carving out weeks, ending in a seventh day of rest, the human experience is profoundly changed.

We are in touch with nature, the lunar and solar cycles and the turning of seasons.  We celebrate the agricultural components of our holidays. But our heartbeat is shabbat. Shabbat is first, and shabbat is primary in importance. Why?

We don't live to work.  We work to live. It is the living that is the most important value. We will not be slaves to our employment, nor caught in the mere turning of seasons and crops like animals foraging for shelter, food and mates.  We live instead in loving anticipation of the day of rest and renewal.  We know that differing our best meal, our finest dishes, and our shul clothes to Saturday makes the week meaningful by its contribution to Shabbat. Monday's purpose is not Monday. Tuesday's achievement is not the measure of success. All these days of struggle, conquest, advancement and construction are how we furnish the lives that we enjoy only best on Shabbat.

1/7th of our life we refuse to let the banker, the collector, the boss, the school, the lawn, the car, the commute or the ambition to get ahead rule over us.  1/7th of our life we are given a reason, which society understands and accepts, to not answer the phone, write the email, or go to work. 1/7th of our life we have carved out for us by this brilliant religion we call Judaism, so that we may truly enjoy what is most important: time with each other.

So the sun is coming down on Friday night, and you have a choice.  You can finish up and come home like any other day, or you can planfully anticipate your week to allow you to get out of the office early and make it home in the mid afternoon to cook, clean and shut down for the 25 hours of a traditional Jewish sabbath of rest.

Shabbat begins with candle lighting 18 minutes before sundown, at the latest - with or without your consent. Every minute after that point is an opportunity taken advantage of, or missed.

Of course, in the summer when Shabbat begins later, even after 8 pm, the workaholic can stay late at the office and still great Shabbat in time. But why would you?  You can start Shabbat early as you like but after candle lighting you are no longer "starting shabbat." You are "joining our regularly scheduled shabbat, already in progress."

So we will begin services when Shabbat begins, to take full advantage of the tradition that God has given us.  If candle lighting time is after 7 PM, we will still have our services at 7 PM (never later).  But if candle lighting begins earlier, as it does in the winter, we will begin Shabbat as Shabbat actually begins.

We will continue our evening services on Fridays at 6 PM until the clocks change in a few weeks, and then begin our return to "halakhik" time.  I am excited by the decision, and look forward to welcoming Shabbat with you each week.

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