by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correnspondent
San Diego, Calif.
February 18, 2001
THE JOY OF SHABBAT
SAN DIEGO -- It's Friday night and I just realized with a Mona Lisa grin that I'm doing that "Shabbat" thing again. Though from my blue beanie-and-oxford-clad days I've been a devout Catholic girl, I find the Jewish Sabbath makes eminent, organic sense to me. It's that high holy time for ritual.
The night has fallen, the candles are burning and guitar music rises like clouds of frankincense from downstairs. The musicians have gathered; the older one teaches the younger and my heart is at happy and at peace. There is nowhere I'd rather be than here in the ample bosom of this sacred moment.
Jewish philosopher A.J. Heschel said something important to understanding Shabbat. "This is the task of men: to conquer space and sanctify time."
Sanctify time? What does that mean? It means that time needs to be man's servant instead of master.
Time is not on our side for the most part: the alarm clock oppresses. We race with it to make the next appointment and it reduces our lives into choppy blocks of measured productivity. The man defined by work says, "Time is money." It ought not to be that way. In fact I think it must be a sure sign of man's fall from grace.
Shabbat is redemption of time. As one Rabbi put it, "Shabbat is the ultimate subversion of the dominant logic and becomes one of the most revolutionary challenges to marketplace consciousness." It lays an axe to the root of those values that reduce man to a machine and his life to a spreadsheet. It champions human dignity and the pricelessness of eternal things; things of the soul like love, joy and peace - commodities the markets do not understand.
Shabbat also champions play; it is what Sunday has forgotten: a day for pure delight, for rest, for re-"creation." How little it has to do with religious duty - with obligations, holy and otherwise. There is no angry God to appease, no tedious deity who demands account of every second as if they were heavenly coins. No dysfunctional heavenly father or mother who demands that their offspring carry their free-floating anxiety like dutiful sherpa up the Everest of their massive discomfort. No, the Sabbath is like the Creator, intoxicated with the beauty and pleasure of "being" - "the slow substance of being." As I muse on the divine wisdom of ceasing from one's work and worries, the smell of gingerbread wafts up from the oven. Two guitars, four hands, 10 fingers in harmonic minors. We shed our world-weariness with music, hot tea and a warm hearth. This night is a refuge for wanderers, for hearts ragged from the constant search for sustenance and significance. Lightened, soon we sing. We sing to live, sing to endure, sing to comfort one another, sing to laugh. We find healing in our laughter and in each other's shining eyes.
Crazed Bedouins and mischievous mystics all, we prefer the unmasked face of God in the human and the ordinary than in gilded monuments to the otherworldly.
Clearly, this celebration is an act of defiance. We consciously choose joy in the face of despair. We enter the fleeting moment and claim eternity in one another's love. Men and women on the Moon in Marigolds, we'd drive the flag of our liberation deep into the cold, lifeless crust of all forms of tyranny.
We are men and women, not enslaved to poverty or riches, technology or political ideologies. We are not owned by any of the myriad, seductive faces or even our own sinfulness. Primarily, Shabbat is a celebration of freedom.
In "Olam," a journal of Jewish spirituality, I recently read something startling. Shimon Peres writes, "The Sabbath commandment was the first call to humanity at large for real equality. And the first summons for freeing man from the bondage of man, for freeing man from himself, from the routine of work." It's a call to a church, a synagogue, a mosque we can all belong to. It is not a temple of brick and wood but of flesh and blood. My life becomes my church, the sky my Sistine Chapel, mountains and hills the grand cathedrals.
The Mexican garbagemen who come every Thursday are my clergy, the elderly Filipina ladies in housekeeping my tired angels. The toothless and wrinkled are my saints, the heartbroken and lost my crucified Savior. I don't need or want professionals to administer "sacraments" to me. Everyone and everything is a sacrament to be received, the profane and sacred indistinguishable.
My sacraments are those sitting here with me. John, with his essential tremors, the quintessential Sidhhartha, whose melancholy I find strangely uplifting and sweet. He himself is a Pentecostal. This young man, Jonathan, the fruit of my womb, is a transfiguration upon whom rests the pillar of fire whenever he plays. His music creates the "Shekinah," the brightness and presence of G-d. I wonder, what holy day might I be?
I hope to be Mary, not the mother of Jesus ever virgin, but Mary of Bethany, where Jesus went for rest and comfort and friendship. He went to her home in Bethany to be fully human. Mary loved the man that God became. She rested at his feet in her liberating obsession, drinking deeply with him from the sweet wine of love and confidence, of timelessness.
We sing late into the Sabbath, the young man learning from his elders, hearing his mother sing with abandon for the first time. His normal industrial-strength ridicule of all things maternal is dampened, suspended for this holiest of times. That is no small miracle.
It is ancient and powerful, this communal ceremony of catharsis and worship in song. We end with an original version of the Shema, "Hear O Israel, the Lord thy G-d is one Lord." The candles flicker, the night deepens; our hearts have been strangely warmed.
With the help of a few gingerbread crumbs and a soaring song, strangers in a strange land can find their way home again.