January 20, 2006

The One Holdover

Yesterday, when I got home to my apartment I found that a window in the living room had fallen out of the casement, knocked over a shelf full of stuff and shattered across the floor. As this is January in Buffalo, it was snowing with 50 mph winds so everything, and I do mean everything, was scattered all over the apartment soaking wet and freezing cold. (luckily my bunny was hiding behind the stove- warm and safe).

I called the super and he came up to put in a temporary replacement while I cleaned up my trashed living room. At some point during our polite small talk he said to me. "You’re surprisingly calm. I’d be flipping out right now. What’s your secret?"

I gave some flip answer, but once he was gone, thought about it. Why wasn’t I flipping out? After working all I came home laden with heavy groceries, exhausted and looking to veg out on the couch watching Red Dwarf dvds until Lost came on. And instead, I spent three hours throwing away a bunch of my ruined possessions and hoping that the temporary window would hold against the wind. Why wasn’t I flipping out?

In all honesty, I have only a theory.

As I've said 8 million times - I've studied religion. Seven years total from the inside and now from the outside. Half of that time was with a priest and a bible fellowship that met on my campus. The second half (several years later) was with a Rabbi for my intent to convert. (Obviously that didn't happen.)

I can honestly say I don't think I took anything away from my study of Christianity, other than a study friendship with the priest who helped me and a better understanding of the religion. There is nothing to show for this time of study in my daily life. (this is not meant to be an insult, it’s just the truth)

However, from Judaism I took something that puts me at peace and keeps me sane.
Sabbath. (Shabbat for my kosher friends ;) )

It's a sublime concept. For a period of 24 hours, you relax - REALLY relax. It's sounds crazy in this fast-paced, gadget-laden world - but I have found I can't do without it. The Jews are really onto something here.

The actual religious ritual and customs that surround this weekly holiday vary according to the level of observance, natch.

For starters, there are 39 forbidden things on Shabbat, all of which ultimately prohibit any kind of work:

Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing wool, Washing wool, Beating wool, Dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving, Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing two stitches, Tearing, Trapping, Slaughtering, Flaying, Salting meat, Curing hide, Scraping hide, Cutting hide up, Writing two letters, Erasing two letters, Building, Tearing a building down, Extinguishing a fire, Kindling a fire, Hitting with a hammer, Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain.

To quote Judaism 101:
All of these tasks are prohibited, as well as any task that operates by the same principle or has the same purpose. In addition, the rabbis have prohibited handling any implement that is intended to perform one of the above purposes (for example, a hammer, a pencil or a match) unless the tool is needed for a permitted purpose (using a hammer to crack nuts when nothing else is available) or needs to be moved to do something permitted (moving a pencil that is sitting on a prayer book), or in certain other limited circumstances. Objects that may not be handled on Shabbat are referred to as "muktzeh," which means, "that which is set aside," because you set it aside (and don't use it unnecessarily) on Shabbat.

The rabbis have also prohibited travel, buying and selling, and other weekday tasks that would interfere with the spirit of Shabbat. The use of electricity is prohibited because it serves the same function as fire or some of the other prohibitions, or because it is technically considered to be "fire."

The issue of the use of an automobile on Shabbat, so often argued by non-observant Jews, is not really an issue at all for observant Jews. The automobile is powered by an internal combustion engine, which operates by burning gasoline and oil, a clear violation of the Torah prohibition against kindling a fire. In addition, the movement of the car would constitute transporting an object in the public domain, another violation of a Torah prohibition, and in all likelihood the car would be used to travel a distance greater than that permitted by rabbinical prohibitions. For all these reasons, and many more, the use of an automobile on Shabbat is clearly not permitted.
As with almost all of the commandments, all of these Shabbat restrictions can be violated if necessary to save a life.



Judaism 101)

All of this is the religious Sabbath. Why is a self-prescribed "hardcore atheist" doing this?

Modern life is a flurry of distractions, obligations and stresses. There rarely seems to be any peace - there's always something that needs to be handled fixed or accomplished. This wears on me.

But, for 24 hours every weekend there is peace. There's no t.v. babbling away in the background, there's no computer to distract me. There's nowhere to go, there's nothing pressing to do. There is only peace and quiet and me.

This gives me time to enjoy the things that are usually so easily set aside in favor of getting our responsibilities taken care of. The errands are taken care of during the week so I can spend my weekends working on hobbies, spending time with family, friends and my man, and doing the volunteer work I love to do. This means that for a little while, there's peace and quiet, no distractions, and I can get to the things on my "To do before I'm 30" list. So that, during the rest of the week there is always something to look forward to, and a nice sense of calm at the fact that my entire life isn't running errands and doing "chores".

Most people tell me that they couldn't do this. That they couldn't step away from the computer/ipod/cellphone/etc for 24 hours. And I say those are exactly the people who should give it a try.