Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Living on the edge . . .
(Humpty Dumpty, on the Edge)
Last month, Naomi and I moved to a wonderful home about one and a half miles away from shul. Reactions have been mainly positive, if only for the reason it signified we were not likely to move in the immediate future. Rabbinic searches are stressful, and the community isn't particularly in the mood to hire a new Rabbi (at least I certainly hope not!).
Still, it's fairly obvious that some are a bit mystified by the seemingly infinite distance between our home and the shul. It's not uncommon to be asked questions like, "[d]oes the eruv really extend all the way up here?" (yes, and even a little bit further!) and to here murmurs of "[m]aybe they just wanted some space." First, despite popular notions to the contrary, Einstein's theory of relativity was discovered generally in Rhode Island long before he was born. You see, since our state is so surprisingly small, the relativity of space and time takes on a special meaning here. On a good day, it takes only 45 minutes to enter Rhode Island at the southern border and leave Rhode Island for the Commonwealth to our north; this small size frequently causes foreigners to forget our status as a state altogether, or to confuse Greater R.I. with Long Island, a small exotic location off the southern coast of Connecticut. Locally, commuting more than ten or fifteen minutes is considered "long", and I've even caught myself saying things like "I'm going all the way to Warwick (15 minutes away) today." All this to say that one mile in Rhode Island is actually longer (in relative terms, but that's all we ever have, anyway) than in many other locales. Admittedly, it's also a bit of a walk.
Now, to dispense with the uncertainty and spill the proverbial beans (what does that even mean anyway?), the main reasons we purchased the home are because we like it (an open layout mid-century modern ranch in a New England city filled with colonials) and because it was in great condition. Also, it happens to be over the city line in Pawtucket, which means that taxes are demonstrably lower and that you can get far more for your money (assuming you're willing to give up a posh East Side address). So far, we love it, and guests have been gracious in taking the hike with us for Shabbat meals.
The point? When I first started attending Shabbat services regularly as a young teenager, the walk was also long (actually longer) and less scenic to boot. On Friday nights, the long walk home served as an extended time to bask in the beauty of twilight while being accompanied by the majestic malachei hashareit (ministering angels) that traditionally accompany Jews home from the Synagogue and into their homes on Friday night. Practically, it was a way to internalize the tranquility of Shabbat and served as a serious break between the hustle and bustle of the work week. On Shabbat morning, the peacefulness of the walk served as the perfect introduction to prayer. With time to think and the solitude of being alone, my thoughts would inevitably turn to the upcoming prayers and to the presence of the Sabbath in my life. By the time I would arrive, I had unintentionally prepared myself in a way that calmed and sensitized my soul. I was in the mood, even anxious, to pray and express through the words of the Siddur and the thoughts of my mind the stirring I often felt on my Shabbat morning walk.
Enter college, and Hillel was a stone's throw away from my dorm room. This pattern followed me for the rest of my life, and I continued to choose, actively and intentionally, to live in close proximity to a Synagogue. Always, it was more convenient, closer to the heart of the community, and seemed like the wise decision, religiously and socially.
Fast forward a decade, and the economy has taught me a valuable (if accidental) lesson. It didn't take more than the first Sabbath in our new home until I felt Shabbos in a way I haven't in more than a decade. Once again, Friday nights are more spiritual and peaceful; morning prayers feel soulful and buzzing with life. The extra love I felt for Shabbat in my youth has returned, and the funny thing is that I didn't even know it had ever gone.
I share my personal experience in the hope that it will spur thoughts and discussion about how to create meaningful ruach (spirit) and a spiritually complete Sabbath. I've devoted much energy to this personally, yet ultimately a short walk did more for me than anything else.