Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Ki Tisa 5763

Shabbat is a Verb

Back in 1997, for my musing for Ki Tisa, I wrote:

"In one of his first successful big musicals, about the progenitors of one of Judaism's daughter races (that "superstar" guy,) Andrew Lloyd Webber ended the musical with a strictly musical piece whose title was a new testament bible verse, John 19:41. Those who knew it by heart easily understood the message, and those who did not could easily find out.

Well, my Shabbat message this week is as simple:

Exodus 31:16-17."

Well, this year, I'll make it easier for you. These verses should be familiar to us all.

31:16 "V'shamru v'nei Yisrael et-haShabbat, la'asot et-haShabbat l'dorotam b'rit olam. 31: 17 Beini uvein b'nei Yisrael ot hi l'olam, ki sheishet yamin asa Adnai et-haShamayim v'et-haAretz, u'vayom haSh'vi'I shavat vayinafash."

And the children of Israel shall keep Shabbat, making Shabbat throughout their generations, an eternal covenant. Between Me and the children of Israel it is a sign forever, for in six days Adnai made the heavens and the earth, and in the seventh day Gd ceased and was refreshed. (Freely adapted from Everett Fox's translation.)

Let's examine the verbs used in these two verses: v'shamru, la'asot, asa, shavat, vayinafash. Three of them are verbs that describe action--v'shamru, to guard or keep; la'asot and asa, both forms of the "to do" or "make" verb. Two of them are verbs that appear to be more passive--shavat, to cease or rest; and vayinafash, to be refreshed.

Yet, is Shabbat intended to be a passive activity? If Shabbat is to do nothing, as some seem to think, how can one "do" nothing? How can one "guard" or "keep" the act of doing nothing (well, I guess I've known some teenagers quite capable of that.)

We are commanded to observe and to do Shabbat. Can one "do" Shabbat passively? Can one even "cease" passively? Do cars really stop on a dime? Not really. An object in motion has momentum. It cannot stop instantaneously, but must dump its kinetic energy so that it can be in a state of rest. (Actually, instantaneous stopping is probably possible, but can have some interesting results and side effects.)

People are no different. Action is required to bring ourselves from our state of momentum during the rest of the week to the "resting state" of Shabbat. We have to find ways to dump our kinetic energy. Therefore, "making Shabbat" or "doing Shabbat" is not just a simple matter of stopping and doing nothing.

Our tradition recognizes that we need to exchange our kinetic energy so that we can truly shavat. The rituals and practices that have grown up around the concept of Shabbat are geared to help us make that transition. If we want to "do Shabbat" then our tradition offers the means we need to get there, and we ought to take advantage of those means. Doing those things we need to slow down our momentum and prepare to Shabbat illustrate why Shabbating is not a passive practice at all.

And what happens when we have successfully overcome our momentum to reach a state of Shabbat? Even when we're doing nothing, we're not really doing nothing. After all, our bodies must continue to do what they need to do to keep us alive, the most basic of which is breathing. Like Gd, on Shabbat, we, too, must refresh--yavinafash. From a Hebrew root that can mean, among other things, to draw breath, to breathe.

Shabbat-it's like taking a big breath. Open wide and breath--Shabbat is coming.

Shabbat Shalom,


© 1997 and 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous musings on this parasha

Ki Tisa 5762-Your Turn
Ki Tisa 5760-Anger Management
Ki Tisa 5761-The Lesson Plan

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