For the week of February 18, 2006 / 20 Shevat 5766
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 18:1 - 20:23
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6; 9:5
Take a Break!
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. (Shemot / Exodus 20:8-10)
Recently I read a newspaper article discussing one of the differences between the work cultures of North America and parts of Asia. Certain companies had provided elaborate staff leisure rooms for their Asian locations that ended up being neglected. The staff in those locations preferred to work all day. Taking a break was not in their culture. When I read this it reminded me of what I was told about the radical biblical concept of Sabbath keeping. It seems that the requirement of resting one day in seven that was imposed by God upon the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai was unique in their day. Up until then everyone thought that in order to survive they had to work every day of the week.
I don't think I would be wrong to say that this is what most people believe today. Whether our goal is survival, prosperity or other kinds of success, we tend to think that all of our time must be given over to work.
Not all people who embrace this notion work seven days a week at their places of employment. Unlike the example mentioned earlier, in North America we have a high value of leisure. But what we call leisure is not necessarily rest. Modern leisure activities could be considered another form of work. Whether it is the need to exercise due to our sedentary lifestyles or the wide variety of entertainment diversions we engage in, our leisure tends to include a high level of energy and the spending of a great deal of money - a far cry from the kind of rest God had in mind when he gave the Sabbath commandment.
Whatever culture we are a part of, it seems that we are all given over to being busy. It also seems that whatever our reasons are for it, we think we must keep busy.
I don't think that God's intention was for us to sit around and do nothing one day in seven, Rather he recognized our need to take a break from the daily necessities of life, and reflect on him, taking the time to recall what life is really all about. If we would sufficiently take the kind of weekly break we need, we would force ourselves to reflect upon the activities of the past week and make the needed adjustments for the week ahead. Think of the benefits of this in our relationships. If each week our family units would take a break from the normal fast pace with which we normally face life, we would be far more able to address the issues that are tearing so many of our families apart.
Once we are willing to take this seriously, we must be willing to look carefully even at those activities we think fulfill God's call to rest, but don't really. How many of us fill one day a week with religious services, but don't really rest and don't actually reflect on God?
The real issue that we are dealing with here is the same one as that when Israel was first given this commandment: can we actually afford to give up one day in seven for God and to rest? What would this mean to employers who expect us to do that little bit (or not so little bit) of extra work at home each weekend? If we do house cleaning and shopping on another day of the week, we might need to give up doing some of those other things we really like to do. If we don't study all weekend, we might worry about whether or not we will get the scholarship we want. It all comes down to whether or not we are going to trust God for our lives, or just depend on ourselves.
This message is not for the lazy. Neither is this a call to a life of leisure. God said that we should work for six days and rest one day. Some of us need to be reminded that we need to work for six, but we will leave that for another time. This week we are addressing those who need to be reminded that life doesn't depend on our efforts. While it is necessary to put effort into our lives and our work, we need to be reminded that we do so out of service to God, not of out of a need to care for ourselves.
To stop and take a weekly break might seem as radical to you as it was for ancient Israel, but it is also just as necessary.
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