Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Beshalakh 5766 - Manna Mania II

It's ironic. Just four years ago, I wrote the musing "Manna Mania" for parashat Beshalakh. It's primary theme was learning to believe that for each of us, that double portion of Manna for Shabbat was out there, if we could only find it. And perhaps if we died, we'd have what it was we needed to have the confidence to observe Shabbat as intended- a day or rest from labors. You actually might want to read through that before you continue with this year's musing. I've included that older musing at the end of this one. Just click here to go to it.

And for the past three years, I've been working as Director of Education for a congregation that has its religious school program only on Shabbat, because it shares space with a church and they need the classrooms on Sunday for their Sunday school. This means that on Shabbat, I'm using the phone, the computer, and most definitely working at what I do the rest of the week. Our students and teachers are writing, and learning. Our congregations plays its little self-deceptions and rabbinic-style workarounds so that, for the most part, money isn't changing hands. Yet the simple fact of the matter is, Shabbat is really not being observed as a day of resting from labors.

Oh sure, there are plenty of rationales and apologetics one can use (and that I do use) to convince oneself that we're in some way keeping the spirit of Shabbat. For most of our students and their families, Saturdays are when they do things that are truly different from the rest of the week - in that it is the day (and for many, the only day) when their family "does Jewish" as it were. Oh, I'm sure a good many of them head off to the mall after school, or play on sports teams, or engage in other activities that wouldn't normally be considered shabbasdik, but in reality this isn't all that different from many liberal congregations that still have their religious school on Sundays.

I have truly learned how it can be a slippery slope. As I've grown more and more accustomed to Saturdays being as work-like and busy as they are for me, the temptation to do more than just go straight home afterwards and relax and rest becomes stronger, and I find it easier to rationalize. First maybe stopping to get gas on the way home. Then another Saturday stopping for some groceries on sale for the last day. Then another Saturday getting some worn tires replaced. I start losing what little Shabbat I had tried to carve out for myself.

Now, like other Jewish professionals, who are regularly practicing their craft on Shabbat, I sometimes work at carving out my own Shabbat on some other day. Yet, in reality, it's just not the same anymore. When I was working in congregations where school was on Sundays, and my role on Saturdays was pretty much only related to worship, Shabbat could still feel like Shabbat. Leading or otherwise participating in a worship service, or a Tot Shabbat didn't feel all that staring and uncomfortable. For me, at first, running a school on Shabbat was uncomfortable. It still is, to some degree, although I worry that my comfort level has grown more than I really want it to grow.

OK. There are other workarounds. We all know how important teaching our children is, and so all that we do here on Saturdays is lashem shamayim, for the sake of heaven, holy work trying to preserve a future for the Jewish people

I recall using a similar rationale while working on staff at a Jewish summer camp, where the realities of my position really required me to spend some time on Shabbat engaged in real work, making sure the campers would have what they needed. I always felt a little awkward locking myself in the video editing room and working so kids would have a finished product to take home with them on Sunday. But there really wasn't another time to do it, as things cranked up again motzei Shabbat and I was again busy. So I was able to find some comfort with that reality.

These rationales and others sound and feel right, but, in the end, they really are just apologetics, designed to o justify my own choices for myself.

So where to find comfort in the choice I, and those who belong to this congregation have made? Where can I find my Shabbat? And, to make the direct connection, where is my double portion of manna?

In my search for self-comfort, I stumbled on an intriguing idea while reviewing the previous musings I had written for this parasha, and encountering "Manna Mania." It's that extra portion thing. Perhaps running religious school on Shabbat is my extra portion. After all, it is the passion and dedication that I find in my work that is my kemach, my sustenance. It's my work that sustains and feeds me each Shabbat, strange as that may seem. That kind of conflicts with an oft used rationale-the idea that by doing something different on Shabbat than we might do the rest of the week, we are keeping the spirit of Shabbat. Lots of folks I know, for example, use exactly that rationale for attending a concert on a Saturday afternoon. Yet since I'm a Jewish educator and religious school director all the rest of the week, I'm not really doing anything different on Shabbat, am I?

I'm not entirely convinced. It has possibilities, this extra portion idea, and I'll continue to play with it, and turn it and turn it again and again. In the meantime, I'll just keep on keeping on. After all, I have already come to terms with the "work" involved with being a Jewish professional on Shabbat. I've come to terms with playing my piano or conducting a choir to enhance worship on Shabbat. And I like my congregation, and its people, and the work I do. So why, even in my third year at this job, is this issue still nagging at me? Is it that I have found my double portion of manna and just don't realize it? Or is it still out there somewhere, waiting for me to find it?

And what about you, my chaverim? Have you found your double portion yet? What gets you through Shabbat? I suspect if you're shomer Shabbas, I know what gets you through Shabbat. Shabbat-ing does. Yet I know there are plenty of you out there with varying levels and degrees of Shabbat observance and minhag. When is the last time you asked yourself about that? The last time you questioned what you've grown comfortable with as your understanding of what Shabbat requires, or what choices you make that for you honor the spirit if not the letter of the halacha for Shabbat?

If this, frankly, cathartic musing has caused me to examine myself and my choices, and think them through, then it has accomplished something. I pray it may do the same for you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian ©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester

Here's what I wrote back in 2002:

Random Musings Before Shabbat - Beshalakh 5762

Manna Mania

Why is it so many of us feel we've no time to observe Shabbat? Are our lives so full and busy that we have not a moment to stop, rest and thank G"d for all of life's gifts? What are we not getting in our lives that would make it possible for us to observe Shabbat as it was intended- as a day of rest from labors?

We are no different than those who came before us. The doubters always existed. Though Moshe made is quite clear to the people that they should gather a double portion of manna on the 6th day, and not go out to gather manna on the 7th, still the Torah tells us that some did go out to gather manna on the 7th day - and found none. So why are we all scrambling to find more manna on Shabbat?

I submit to each of us that, when we go out looking for our manna, our sustenance, on the 7th day, that we too will find none. Our pursuit of work, shopping, and other activities on Shabbat - will that truly bring us the sustenance we need?

"But if I don't work on Saturday, I don't earn enough money!" Is money the all the sustenance we need?

"But I have to shop on Saturday. I'm so busy the rest of the week, and my family would go hungry and without clothes if I didn't shop on Saturday." Are clothes and food all the sustenance we need?

We're all missing something here. If, as Jews, we have faith in G"d, no matter our understanding of G"d, then we must believe that G"d still provides that double portion of manna so that on Shabbat we don't have to go out and gather it. Somewhere in our day to day activities, our daily existence, we're getting that double portion-and we just don't know it.

Our bodies need more than physical nourishment. As we are taught : "In eyn kemach, eyn Torah; im eyn Torah eyn kemach." Without sustenance, there is no Torah; without Torah, there is no sustenance. We are not just automatons, robots, zombies, Stepford wives, that go about simply fulfilling our assigned duties, seeking only to complete our tasks and move on to the next one. We are not content with the simple satisfaction of pure labor and nothing else. Not just our bodies need nourishing, but our minds, and our souls. Work can, and does in some situations, provide some mental and spiritual nourishment. But it is probably a diet not rich in all the required nutrients for proper care and feeding of the mind and the soul. We have to stop once in a while, and take into our bodies, minds and souls the nourishment that can only come from Torah, from G"d. This is why G"d gave us Shabbat. My favorite holiday-the one that comes once a week.

They're out there somewhere-those double portions of manna-of sustenance, that G"d has provided for us in order that we can observe a day of rest, of spiritual nourishment, of Shabbat. (Of course, one can easily question whether the selection of sunset Friday to sunset Saturday as that day of rest is arbitrary, and that one might choose another day. That's a discussion for another time.)

I don't know how these double portions might appear. In my own life, I might identify the double portion as my good fortune to be working in a Jewish setting, empowering me to celebrate Shabbat as it was intended. Yet, sadly, even I often ignore the gift, and go out seeking more manna on Shabbat. (So, here's a question of the week for me-is leading a Tot Shabbat service on Saturday work?)

Our lives are so busy, so harried, so hurried. Yet, both because of this and in spite of this, surely our lives are filled with more than enough manna than we need to sustain us. So why do we keep looking for manna on Shabbat? We are all well satiated with the physical sustenance we gather daily in our lives-is it not enough to carry us through one day of rest? And we greedily gather up our manna-far more than we need. We need to find a way to repeat the miracle of Shemot 16:17-18 - "The people of Israel did thus - they gathered, (some) much and (some) little. And when they measured it by the omer, the gatherers of much had no extra, the gatherers of little had no lack; each what they could eat they gathered." Can we each say the same is true for us now?

My challenge to each of us this week is to look for those double portions in our lives that just might enable us to observe Shabbat as G"d has commanded (or asked, if you prefer) us to do.

Click here to go back to the 5766 Musing, Manna Mania II

Shabbat Shalom,

©2006 and 2002 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some Previous Musings on the Same Parasha

Beshalakh 5765-G"d's War
Beshalach 5763-Mi Chamonu
Beshalach 5760-Moshe's Musings
Beshalach 5761-Warrior G"d
Beshalach 5762-Manna mania

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