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Ki Teze 5783       August 26, 2023

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom

 Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of an organization called, Teruah, A Rabbinic Response for Human Rights. While I do support this organization, I do have my differences with them. It is an organization of rabbis that are on the far left of the political spectrum and while I, myself, lean left, I believe that sometimes those on the left are so ideologically motivated that they lose their common sense. I should also add that I think that there are those who are on the far right of the political spectrum who have the same problem. I guess that makes me a centrist in political jargon, but I like to think of myself as someone who uses common sense in every situation and tries not to be driven by ideology.

That being said, I came across a story by Rabbi Jacobs that just begged me to make it the sermon for this week. To set the stage, we are in the thick of preparing for the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe that are only a few weeks away. There is much we need to consider at this time of year. Not only do we have to own up to our past mistakes, but we need to consider what we will be doing differently in the year ahead. How will we become a better person? How will we become a better Jew?

Rabbi Jacobs wrote: In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I led a number of college students on Jewish service-learning trips to the Gulf Coast. Inevitably, participants would complain about our practice of stopping work for Shabbat. “We only have a week here,” they would say. “We could get so much more done with one more day.”  In the conversations that ensued, we interrogated these assumptions. “How much more could we, as inexperienced volunteers, contribute in one more day? Do we only have a week, or is this an investment in a lifetime of service?”

Shabbat acts as a bulwark against the hubris that makes us believe that if we just worked a little bit harder, and a little bit longer, we could fix everything. God, according to the Torah, created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh. This doesn’t mean that the world was perfect at the end of the sixth day of creation. Rather, God models the necessity of taking just one day to experience the world as it is, while acknowledging our own limitations in perfecting it. Paradoxically, Shabbat simultaneously offers “a glimpse of the world to come”—a world of abundant food, rest, and community. This vision liberates us from the day-to-day slog of incremental change, and inspires us to continue our work in the next six days. Like my students on those service trips, many of us feel called to spend every day protesting, calling our legislators, and raising money for the organizations standing up for justice and democracy. After all, Israeli and American democracy are under siege, the earth is heating up, asylum seekers remain stuck at the border, and children are being shot in school.

Yet Shabbat is a crucial reminder that our success will depend not on the actions of one day, but on our cumulative actions over many years. It’s a day that forces us to confront the limitations of our abilities as humans, while restoring ourselves for the work ahead. If we are to bring about a perfected world, we need not only the combined efforts of human beings, but also a deep partnership with God.”

It does not matter if one is working or retired, we all live busy lives. There is so much to get done each day. Our families need to be attended to. We have children and grandchildren to call, or video chat with. We have family celebrations, big ones and small ones, which need to be planned. We have to attend to sick family members and share the joys that are what family is all about. We are glad to spend time with our families.

We also have friends that require our attention. There are lunches and dinners to share. There are movies and theater to attend and then go for a cup of coffee afterwards to discuss the themes of the performances.

We all have our service projects to attend to. We may be helping the homeless or the hungry, we may be raising money for the many really good causes in the world. We may be writing letters of protest or support for the many causes that vie for our attention. We know that we can’t do it all, but we want to try to make a difference in the places that most concern us.

Rabbi Jacobs is right. In our world today, we believe that just a little more work can make a big difference. If we work just one hour more, we can be closer to finishing our project. If we stay a bit longer, we can help a few more people in distress. If we just delay our dinner a bit, we can cross off just a few more items on our “to do” list.

I admit that it is very hard to leave a project unfinished. We know that tomorrow we will have to come back and do that last bit of work before we can begin something new. But we know that many projects don’t really have an end. We will have to wait for someone else to do their part before we can continue. A call will be needed but the person we need to call has already gone home for the day. We think, “Better that we should wait on someone else rather them having to wait for us.” But really….. is our time worth less than their time? Sometimes we just need to know that it is time to stop for the day.

I was at my very first synagogue on the day before my very first Rosh Hashana. I was running all over the synagogue making sure that everything was in its place for the holiday that would soon begin. The sanctuary had a number of people working there that day, cleaning silver, putting out the mahzorim, putting out pledge cards for Israel Bonds, numbering the seats, preparing lists for the ushers, and I was there supervising it all, or so I thought. Finally, around two in the afternoon, the Ritual Vice President, a kind man, about 85 years old, walked over to me and put his hand on the young rabbi’s shoulder. “We have all done this before and we know what we need to do. You should go home now.” I looked in his eyes and knew in my heart he was right. I was new but they had prepared for many holidays in the years before I arrived. I thanked him for his help and agreed; it was time for me to go home. And I left to help Michelle with our children.

Shabbat tells us when it is time to stop. It puts its hand on our shoulder and lets us know that there is nothing more that can be done now, and we need the time to reflect on what we have accomplished and maybe consider what really will need to be done when we return. We need to just turn our minds off for 25 hours. It is time to refresh and renew. To remember why we are doing this work in the first place.

Hermann Wolk, the author and playwright, always included in his contract when he was working on Broadway that he would be off work from midafternoon Friday until after sunset on Saturday. Every week was the same story; he would leave his desk where he was doing the last-minute rewrites on the script and prepare to go home. The director would plead with him to stay. He would plead, “The play will fail without you, we will never open on time, please don’t leave!” But Wolk would leave confident that the impending disaster would still be there on Saturday night because Broadway plays are always in a state of impending disaster. It made no difference to the play if he were there or not. But he did notice one big difference. He often made his most important contributions to the play when he returned Saturday night. Having put the play out of his mind for Shabbat, he could look at it with fresh eyes when he returned.

Shabbat is a very subtle form of rest. When we turn off all our electronics, let voicemail answer the phone, put away the car keys, leave our wallets on our dressers, we find that we still have time to do things we have always wanted to do. We can be with friends at synagogue of course, but we can sit and enjoy our family and maybe some company at our meals. We can sit at the table for hours and talk about anything and everything. Remember that book you have been trying to get around to reading? Now there is lots of time to read. Suddenly, on Shabbat there is time to take a walk in the neighborhood! Shabbat is not easy; the cell phone calls out that someone left a text message, can you ignore it for a day? The phone lets you know that a friend is calling, probably to ask if you want to go shopping or see a movie. Can you just let the voicemail pick it up? After all, that is what voicemail is for. Does it really matter if you pick up more orange juice today or tomorrow? Shabbat helps us see time in a different way. Time is not something to be used; it is something to be enjoyed.

What matters in the end is not how much you accomplish in a day, but how much you accomplish in life. Taking a day off each week does not make us less productive (whatever that means). It makes us happier, healthier, and more creative.

I know that all of you here this morning have heard this message not only from me but from every rabbi you know. We are not trying to drum up more attendance at services. We are trying to get some rest for your exhausted souls. If we take the time to rest, we will slow down our pace to something that is not only reasonable but enjoyable.

I invite you to go home after this service and see if you can bring an extra hour to your Shabbat. You are here today, and that is doing Shabbat for the morning. Now what would happen if you extended your Shabbat rest for an extra hour or two longer? What would you do with the extra time if there was nothing important enough to force you away from home? How great would that be?

May God help us not by giving us more time, but by helping us use the time we have better. May God guide us to a Shabbat Shalom….. Amen.


Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784