The Rabbi’s Study: The why of Sabbath

There are many profound gifts that flow from growing up with a parent who is a doctor. The fact that my father is an anesthesiologist helped me to feel safer as an asthmatic child. I knew that he helped people breath during operations at the hospital, and so I knew that he would help me breathe when my wheezing got louder and it began to feel like the air just wasn’t getting down into my lungs. As long as he wasn’t worried, neither was I, and when he and my mother encouraged me to play soccer, to go to summer camp and to take hiking trips, I knew that it was safe because he thought it was safe.

There was also a mystique which surrounded the long Latin names that he could assign to every malady that I and my siblings might experience. A bruise became much more significant when it was transformed into a contusion. And the technical names for sore throats, stretched muscles and eating too much food sounded almost like the recitation of ancient spells.

And then there was his sound medical advice. Because he was a doctor, whenever we had an ache or a pain, we would tell him so that he could fix it. “Dad,” we would say, “my foot hurts.”   And, with all of the Hippocratic wisdom that he had earned in his years of study and practice, he would suggest, “Maybe if you drop a bowling ball on the other foot, you won’t notice as much.” (This was a very safe course of treatment to suggest since we had no bowling balls in our home at the time.)

Other times, we would approach him, poking at a bruise or hyper extending a joint and let him know that, “it hurts when I do this.” Again, he would rely on his medical expertise when he sagely suggested to us, “well then maybe you should stop doing that.”

While my father and I have often noted that, in a way, we are in the same business, except that he puts people to sleep in the operating room and I do so in the sanctuary. I am not a doctor. (My 10th-grade experience trying to dissect a frog in biology class convinced me that I’d never make it through gross anatomy.) But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t internalized a great deal of my father’s wisdom.

Like thinking about how to respond to how busy we all are. I know from my own life and from trying to schedule appointments with colleagues and congregants that we are busier now than we have ever been. In many homes, every adult in the family is working and every child is engaged in multiple extracurricular activities.

Added to all of this is the fact that more and more members of our community are traveling long distances for work.   I have gotten emails written from planes, trains and automobiles and from three continents because our work is no longer relegated to one location.

It’s no wonder that I can hear the collective cry of our community realizing that it hurts when we do this. It feels awful to never feel like we can do some of the things that are not part of our jobs but which are vitally important to our lives. It is profoundly frustrating that we aren’t able to spend as much time with our families as we know we should. And it is dispiriting to realize that at the end of the year, or the month, or the week, things really won’t be that different. Every goal we attain, every trip we take, every class or practice to which we drive our children will simply be replaced by another.

When I think about the fact that we are hurting ourselves by living like this, I hear my father’s voice saying, “Well, then, stop doing that.”

And that is what our tradition says as well. That’s why we have been given the Sabbath. Think about the power you gain when you not only assert your independence from all of the mundane demands that make your life so hectic, but when you also use that time instead to spend time doing the things that are really important to you: spending time with your family, taking some time to let your thoughts go where they want to go instead of where you feel like they need to go, cultivating your relationship with the Divine, and treating yourself to the luxury of dipping into the sacred time of your tradition’s worship service.

It doesn’t take a medical doctor to know that when it gets uncomfortable keeping up with our hectic lives, maybe it’s time to stop trying, at least for 24 hours each week. Who knows, maybe it will even become a habit.

About Rabbi Eric M. Rosin

Rabbi Eric Rosin began his professional career as an attorney in Los Angeles serving the entertainment industry, but discovered he needed to be doing something he was passionate about. He left the practice of law and began studying for ordination at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. After ordination, Rabbi Rosin served for two years as the assistant rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Va., then assumed the pulpit at Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester, Pa. in 2004.

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