Rabbinically Speaking with Rabbi Bahar: Shabbat is a Gift


By Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar


How much time do you spend on social media every day? How much time each day are you on your cell phone or tablet checking the news, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or GroupMe feeds? We are obsessed with understanding and experiencing the world as it happens. We don’t want to miss a thing.
Scientific research teaches us that our bodies respond to the jolt of our phones vibrating and dinging with the release of stress hormones. Immediately responding to these alerts leads to addiction-like behavior and can slow down our cognitive functions.

How would our world change if we missed an email or a tweet? What if we didn’t respond to every message within 30 minutes of having received it? How would our world change if we deliberately hit the “pause” button and just took a breath?

I struggle with wanting an answer and wanting to answer every message immediately when it arrives. The immediacy of the response helps me feel connected to people. Scrolling through news feeds makes me feel on top of what is happening in the world. I check in on what friends and family are doing. I worry about missing something important, the moment it happens. And then I take a breath and think, what would be at risk if I did not know what happened the moment it happened? How would my life be changed? How would the lives of others be affected?

While attending the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) conference, I noticed many of the over 600 rabbis in attendance checking their phones throughout the conference. My colleagues and I had paid several thousand dollars to learn together, to pray together, to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s experiences. Sometimes those texts were related to the needs of our congregations. Some of those texts were telling us of congregants in crisis and some were telling us about a situation in our home congregations that someone had determined to be a crisis...because we all live in a world where we expect an answer within moments of asking the question. And some of us were playing Sudoku, doing a crossword puzzle or checking Facebook. (A confession: I played a game of Sudoku on my tablet when I was having trouble focusing on what the presenter was saying.) After observing my colleagues’ behavior and my own, I found myself asking, “How many of us are really in the room? How many of us are physically here and mentally somewhere else?”

 While waiting in the airport for my return flight, I watched my fellow travelers with their heads down, entranced by their devices. Were they working? Were they catching up on today’s news? Were they chatting with family and friends? And then I thought, is anyone, myself included, capable of sitting quietly, tuned into our own thoughts? What might we learn about ourselves? What commitments to self might we create? How might we better our own lives?

Our Jewish tradition offers a solution for today’s world. Shabbat is the day to pause and stop creating. It is a day set aside to get off the treadmill, to take a break from running nowhere at full speed. It is that 25-hour period to just sit and take a few deep breaths. Schedule a Shabbat fast from electronic devices. Ignore the never-ending news cycle for the day. Plan a nice dinner with friends, read a book or go on a walk. Take in the beauty that is Florida before the oppressive heat of summer arrives. Make time to reflect. Don’t do any work for your job, check your computer, do laundry or pay bills. Take the time to simply “be.” Be present in each glorious Shabbat moment.

Shabbat is a gift, ours for the taking. The world will be waiting for us after Havdalah.