Thursday, January 26, 2012

Limited Patience and Cruel Bondage

It's been way too long without a post, and I apologize for that.  We've all been there, where the myriad of to-do list items can best be compared to cockroaches in Manhattan.  For those who haven't had the fortune of living through it first hand, I'll share my experience.  During the night, when the nocturnal space-alien like creatures invade, a killing spree is the only solution.  Despite best efforts, their numbers only grow by the day.  Think of the midrashic interpretation of multiplying frogs.  This metaphor could aptly describe our e-mail inboxes, cell phones, etc.  We're simply overloaded.

Now, let's turn our focus to a verse in last week's Torah reading.  God commands Moshe to tell the people about his plan to lead them out of Egypt; in response, the people don't listen.  It's not that they object, per se.  The people were incapable of  listening because of קצר רוח, shortness of spirit or lack of patience, and because of עבודה קשה, burdensome work.  The difficult task before them was too overwhelming, and so the collective spirit of the Israelites was crushed.  There was no room for a spiritual message of freedom, human respect, and the worship of the only true God.  Concerns about mortar production, the exhaustion of physical labor, and the monotony of the awful routine prevented any introspection.

How true this rings in our own day.  On a personal level, I've often felt that I sorely neglect my relationship with my Creator, serious thought about important religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical issues, family, friends, and others, simply by being stuck in the busy routine.  For some, it's work.  For others, it's technology.  For others, the monotonous routine of religious life itself can provide the very ironic framework for a distraction from all that is important.  We simply don't have time to meditate, reflect, prioritize, plan, and consider.  Whether it's looking backward, forward, or at the present itself, there's rarely a moment to breathe.

How important, then, that in memory of our being taken out of Egypt, we are commanded to rest and cease "doing" each week.  This is as much a pleas as a confession.  Rest on the Sabbath doesn't merely entail a technical compliance with the rules.  Additionally, there are also other competing aspects to the Sabbath.  These include prayer, community, family, and more.  As the Rabbi of a synagogue, the Sabbath is a jam-packed day (not complaining, just noting).  Still, the physical ability to rest from the relentless bustle of the work week does provide a truly unique opportunity.  We are so fortunate to have the day built-in to the calendar.  This week, let's all try and take a little quiet time to reflect and hear God's call, the same one we were too busy to hear all those years ago.  Even though we're no longer slaves in Egypt, we're still slaves in many senses of the word.  A few private moments to close the eyes, think, reflect, connect . . . this has to be part of Shabbat.  We work very hard to prepare the Sabbath meal, and rightfully so.  We wouldn't dare think of skipping out on the meal.  Let's not spend some weeks skipping the spiritual component either.

שבת שלום ומבורך