Time: It’s how you fill it that counts

November 5, 2013 

Peace be with you, and Shabbat Shalom.

Do you take moments in which to reflect upon the richness of the gift that is your life? Is there a moment during each week, even as brief as the span of a red traffic light, in which you acknowledge the inevitability of the passage of time?

This week’s Torah portion finds Jacob agreeing to spend seven years in the service of Laban, tending Laban’s farm and flocks, working to earn the right to marry Rachel. One Torah translation gives the rationale as “Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.”

The Torah does not state if Jacob had any vacation during those years.

Maybe Jacob did get some time off, perhaps when his children were born. Time away from daily toil was mandated later in the Torah, with the Fourth Commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. Not all details of that Sabbath observance were outlined; it is a commandment to set a time apart, each week. This commandment is repeated twice in the Torah. Just as gardens pause and renew between seasons, we need to step away from our daily grind to pause and remember that we are here to do more than just react to the immediate.

That pause can be enriching.

Jews celebrate Shabbat, the Sabbath, starting at sundown Friday night, concluding on Saturday evenings. One of the primary Friday evening Shabbat prayers is “Maariv Aravim,” which speaks of the Lord creating day and night, and changing the seasons to mark the passage of time. Details of the Jewish Sabbath observance vary across nations and groups, however, its core structure has changed little over the centuries, whether the prayer language is Hebrew, Russian, Spanish or English.

That prayer, with an appreciation of time passing, rises up the world over on Friday nights. That prayer is an acknowledgment that time will pass, and we humans cannot change that.

For most Jews, Sabbath observance includes saying a blessing and lighting candles. The number of candles can vary dependent upon one’s traditions, but usually two candles are lit, with a blessing of thanks for the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. Once the blessing is recited and the candles lighted, the holy time of Shabbat has begun.

There are numerous traditions, some older than others, on how to fill this time of Shabbat. Observance of Shabbat is not tied to a building or a specific place. Instead, it is a moment in time, set aside to remember our shared past. It can also be a pause in which we reach out to others and both observe and appreciate our shared present.

Originally, the vast majority of Jews did no work on a Saturday, spending the time with family and study of Torah. Traditions continue to evolve, with many ways to create a thoughtful Shabbat, with family and friends.

Christians have a saying, “Peace be with you.” The Jews have “Shabbat Shalom,” which translates as “Peace of the Sabbath.” However you set aside time to acknowledge a power greater than your own, may it be filled with comfort and peace.

Edie Yakutis works with Ritual Life at Temple Solel in Fort Mill. Contact her at eyakutis@outlook.com.

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