We live in a pressure cooker. You can’t watch the news or read a newspaper without being bombarded with stories about war and terror threats. Our government gives us tips on how to prepare for possible chemical, biological or radiological attacks. The economy and stock market continue to sag. The Jewish psyche is taking a thrashing these days.
For more than 3,000 years, Judaism has offered the perfect antidote to counteract the stresses of life — the Sabbath.
The Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat, is an “oasis in time.” A 25-hour window of opportunity to unplug from media overload and the broadcasts that seem to report nothing but war and terror and death and destruction. A time to catch our breath, to look inward, to explore our thoughts and feelings. It’s a time to focus on our families and friends without the distractions of television, phone calls and errands. The Sabbath is a time to relax and seek spiritual comfort, whether in a synagogue or in private reflection.
And if American Jews have ever needed spiritual comfort, we need it now.
Throughout Jewish history — from Haman to Hitler, Amalek to Arafat — there have been those who sought to destroy us. But for the most part, Jews in America have felt secure. Our biggest threat has come from assimilation and intermarriage, not suicide bombers.
All that changed on September 11. On that tragic day, the United States lost its innocence and gained a sense of vulnerability. Suddenly Americans had a taste of what life is like in Israel, where a routine commute, a coffee break, a night out can end in a terrorist strike.
All Americans, Jew and non-Jew alike, suddenly became targets. For Jews, though, the fear is heightened. We’ve always been linked with our brothers and sisters fighting terrorism in Israel, and now we’re told that our schools and synagogues are on top of Al Qaeda’s hit list.
And yet, as in Israel, life must go on. We must put aside our fears and anxieties and move forward. Of course, it’s not always so easy. Visits to therapists have increased. More and more prescriptions are being written for anti-anxiety medications. Some people have questioned their religious beliefs; others have sought refuge in them.
As our world seems to spiral out of control, the Sabbath is as relevant now as ever before. This heavenly gift, “divine therapy,” if you will, is a unique opportunity for spiritual and psychological renewal that comes every week. At its close, we can face the week uplifted. And, as the pressures begin to build again, we can anticipate its arrival and the wonderful respite it will bring.
Those who threaten us with war and terror seek not only to do us physical harm, but also to damage us psychologically. They wish to paralyze us with fear and disrupt our lives. Our fear gives them power. But we can fight back by refusing to give in, by enjoying our lives and maintaining our routines. The Sabbath is the perfect means of resistance. By observing it, we demonstrate that despite the ugliness around us, we can take one day each week to remember what is truly important in life.
While recent news reports caused a run on duct tape and plastic sheeting to create sealed rooms, we have the opportunity to create a sealed space in time: the Sabbath. Twenty-five hours of peace, 25 hours of calm, 25 hours of reminding ourselves that there is a Higher Power at work in the world — a Supreme Being that cannot be swayed by terrorism, who watches over us, protects us and guides us.
In times of peace and war, the Sabbath has always had a profound impact. It has allowed us to connect with our families, our communities and our history. It has been said, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” It is an elixir of life. It is God’s greatest gift to humankind.
Of course, a day of rest and reflection can benefit anyone. A Christian may observe it on Sunday, a Muslim on Friday, but what links all these observances is the opportunity to transcend time and earthly troubles to seek spiritual sustenance.
Now is the time to embrace the Sabbath, savor it and allow it to uplift us beyond our troubled world and into a realm where peace and tranquility reign supreme.
Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald is the founder and director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, which organizes Shabbat Across America, a program that encourages Sabbath observance. It is scheduled to take place at more than 700 locations throughout North America today. As many as 70,000 Jews are expected to participate. (For additional information, please call 888-Shabbat or visit www.njop.org.)