Greetings from Israel, where I am currently trying to navigate my way through public transport and amazing food. Israel is an incredible country with a lot of action and happening, but for twenty-four hours every week the whole country falls into a deep sleep: Sabbath.
Sabbath is the seventh day of the Jewish weekly calendar. It goes from Friday night to Saturday night and is a day set aside for prayer and worship, because it says so in Exodus 20:8-11:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Observing Sabbath is also the fourth of the ten commandments.
Sabbath is made for rest and regeneration. In Israel, this means no buses, no shops, no electricity, no taxis, and no creative or power exercising work such as turning on a switch. It can get pretty tedious and pretty boring.
In Jerusalem for example, there are ‘Sabbath elevators,’ which operate automatically allowing Jews to use them without having to ‘turn them on.’
Did you know that traditional Jews have to screw off the bulb in their fridges every Friday afternoon in order to avoid turning it on when opening the fridge?
We as travelers were not looking forward to Sabbath. However, we chose to embrace its peace and solitude and spent it on a lonely camel ranch in the desert. No wifi. No distractions.
On Friday night, we watched the sun set. At 10pm we went to bed, because there was nothing else to do. On Saturday morning, we watched / tried to watch the sun rise (it was very foggy). The rest of the day, we spent on hammocks doing… nothing. A bit of reading. A bit of napping.
It felt weird. Mostly, because we were forced to do nothing.
The website jewfaq.org contemplates that many people think of Sabbath as a day full of restrictions. There are a lot of rules, especially among Orthodox Jews, when in fact it is meant as a day to ‘remember and observe.’
In Christian western countries, it is the opposite: Sabbath (Sunday in Christian culture) is not regulated at all and hardly observed. A few people go to church, some take an afternoon stroll or eat a lot. Many people work on Sunday, though. I have worked on Sunday many times.
I am glad our culture is not as restrictive, because it gives me more freedom, however, Sabbath is also our fourth commandment. And Christian or not, a break amidst all of daily life’s stress and hassle is a good idea.
Sabbath does not have to be on Saturday (or Sunday). It does not have be exactly twenty-four hours with no work and electricity and creative expression. It does not have to mean feeling unproductive.
There should be no rules to Sabbath, because it is no burden but a blessing: It is a day to pause and take a deep breath.
Our culture is so focused on doing the most the fastest that we forget to take care of ourselves. We forget to take a step back, because we are afraid we will not be able to keep up. But we definitely won’t be able to keep up if we run out of fuel.
So, I want to encourage us all to do our own kinds of Sabbath. Spend one day every week doing something that rejuvenates you. Whether that be reading, hiking, baking, napping, singing, or doing absolutely nothing. There should be no rules.
We like to smile at restrictive religions, but while our ancestors (and contemporaries) labored themselves to death, Jewish Sabbath has been a tradition for millennia. A little vacation every week.
Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?