MTV or VH1 used to showcase an artist “unplugged.” He or she was generally a rock artist that would sit down in front of a small audience, field questions, and play acoustic versions of songs that were traditionally played with electric guitars, drums, etc. Invariably, people loved the acoustic versions of these classic songs, sometimes enough to propel the songs to the top of the charts.
Since before my conversion, I’ve applied the same concept to my observance of Shabbat. For starters, I attend services on Friday night. I unplug from the week by declining invitations for Friday night parties, gatherings, or dinners out. Services have become an important part of my life – not because I have to go to shul, but because I want to go to shul. The Shabbat service offers me the unique opportunity to take in a deep breath and release all the week’s stress, upsets, resentments, worries, and hassles and breath in a “second soul,” (neshamah yetairah) just for Shabbat (this is an awesome concept and one of my favorites in Judaism!). My “second soul” allows me to celebrate Shabbat fully and releases me from the trappings (figuratively and literally) of my day-to-day life. I love the way Rabbi Harold Kushner put it: ” I would like to think that Sabbath observance, like virtue, is its own reward, that it is worth doing not because it makes you a better worker, but because it makes you a better human being in those parts of your life that have nothing to do with work.”
Although I’m still getting used to it, I unplug from the computer on Shabbat – no Facebook, e-mail, or blogging. Don’t get me wrong… I’m the first one to admit that I love all the technological ways to connect with people in this day and age but Shabbat is a time for me to relax and connect with G-d and for me, the best way to do this is through study. Sometimes I re-read the Torah portion for the week and read through the Haftorah, then read the commentaries on both to see what scholars and our Sages have to say about each. Shabbat offers me the time to do this without feeling pressured by tasks that need to get done or messages to answer. Even if it’s just reading through the Siddur at a leisurely pace, I’m connecting with G-d in a way that I don’t often get the chance to do – deliberately and purposefully.
I try to unplug from worry on Shabbat. This is a big one for me because I spend a lot of wasted time worrying; worrying about how we’ll pay the mortgage this month, worrying about the hundreds of drivers I share the road with each day and wondering if one of them has been drinking and could run into me with their car, worrying about my job, worrying about my relationships. On Shabbat, I look in the mirror and say out loud, STOP! For the remainder of Friday night/Saturday I try to quiet my mind and stop worrying. Things generally have a way of working out and Shabbat allows me to spend a day free from worry and to discover that everything comes out the way it should whether I worry about it or not.
For now, I try to focus on these three things each Shabbat; attending services, refraining from social media, and ceasing the endless cycle of worry. For now, this is my way of unplugging for Shabbat. I’m sure with time I’ll get better at finding different ways to observe this most important Jewish observance and I look forward with much anticipation and excitement to discovering additional ways to make this day sacred and special.