Balancing Work and Spiritual Practice
A D'Var Torah for Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei 2012/5772 by Rabbi Jill Jacobs
This week’s parashah, Vayakhel-Pekudei, interrupts the narrative of the building of the mishkan (tabernacle) to teach about Shabbat. In this excerpt from her newest book, Rabbi Jill Jacobs considers the relationship between sacred work and Shabbat.
Excerpted from Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community (Jewish Lights) with permission. www.jewishlights.com c Jill Jacobs. Order a signed copy.
As an old labor slogan would have it, the unions are “the folks who brought you the weekend.” While it might be true that the unions fought for the five-day week in the United States, the idea of taking one day off each week goes back to the Torah. As we think about how to build an integrated life of spiritual activism, it’s worth taking a look at Shabbat as a model for balancing work and spiritual practice.
In the biblical narrative, God creates the world in six days and then rests on the seventh. This divine retreat becomes the precedent for Shabbat, a twenty-five-hour period each week when Jews traditionally refrain from adding to or subtracting from creation. For traditionally Shabbat observant Jews, this means taking a break from writing, cooking, gardening, or partaking in other activities that fundamentally alter the world around us.
In the past few years, many of us have had our eyes opened to the extraordinary amount of waste that human beings produce. Our lives are consumed with stuff: closets full of clothes that we never wear, fancy electronics that we will cast aside when the next model comes out, and mountains of take-out containers from the lunches we eat at our desks. . .
Shabbat offers a break from accumulating stuff. On this one day a week, Jews traditionally do not spend money, browse the Internet, or otherwise produce or acquire more. For those who do not drive or use electricity on Shabbat, this day also serves as an interruption in the consumption of natural resources. For one day a week, in principle at least, we stop changing the world; we stop trying to impose our will upon creation. . .
For those of us involved in social justice work, Shabbat forces us to come face-to-face with our limitations. Even if we work all day, every day, we will not save the world in this generation. That can be a difficult thing to admit. Worse, such work habits are bound to burn us out and turn us into unpleasant human beings with no time for family or friends and little patience for colleagues. . .
In an integrated Jewish practice, Shabbat is not something that “religious people do,” nor is it time off from justice work. Rather, Shabbat becomes an essential part of justice work. We can make these connections explicit by celebrating Shabbat with our social justice partners, speaking
about Shabbat as a model for sustainable living, and using Shabbat as the inspiration to fight for freedom for all people.
Order a signed copy of Where Justice Dwells.