There are two versions of the Ten Commandments in the Torah, and though each is substantially the same as the other, the verses concerning Shabbat are distinct. In Exodus, we read, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” In Deuteronomy, we read, “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Troubled by the notion that there are two authoritative versions of God’s instructions, midrash comes up with an ingenious solution: God said “remember” and “observe” in a single utterance. The very first verse of the Friday night hymn L’kha Dodi begins with that observation.
I know that we live in a world that is not very shabbes-friendly. The intensity of the work week, which ought to make a traditional day of rest attractive, spills over into our (alleged) leisure time and sends us to the theatre, soccer games, the shopping mall, and errands. And who can pass up the discounts airlines offer if you stay over a Saturday night – guaranteeing travel or tourism. And, in spite of the explosion of Jewish life in Northern Virginia, most of our neighbors are still not Jewish, and the social life we and our children enjoy takes place on the weekends.
It’s enough to sometimes make me hope for either-or. If Jews won’t observe, at least let them remember.
Each year I have the great pleasure of teaching our tenth and eleventh grade students in Confirmation classes. Because they see each other so infrequently, we always begin with a few words from each student about what is new in their lives. Inevitably, the majority of students tell me about activities they enjoyed during the previous Shabbat – a movie, a sports competition, a shopping expedition, a party. There is never a mention of Shabbat. Never. And you have my assurance that I never embarrass them about it, though I sometimes gently remind them that Friday night and Saturday are still shabbes.
So we are raising generations of kids who neither observe nor remember Shabbat. And I turn to you for help. I will be happy to find ways to enhance your personal observance of Shabbat, traditionally or otherwise. But as for remembering, I put that task in your hands. Wish your children – and other Jews, young and older – “Shabbat Shalom” whenever you speak with them on Friday and Saturday. Light candles in your home so that anyone who enters is reminded that it is Shabbat. If you can wish friends and neighbors nice days, merry holidays and “good ones,” you can wish your family and community members a gut shabbes.
If not you, then who will?
THIS MONTH’S BIG QUESTION
for the 5770/2009 High Holy Day Reflection Booklet
#3 What do you say “no” to?
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