A few months back I was in Jerusalem on a peace making pilgrimage. We met with Palestinians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, the non-Religious and people all across the political spectrum. The trip was such a paradox for me as it was both heart breaking and hopeful, full of peacemakers and the violent, we fell in love and grieved deeply all in two weeks…but more on that later.
A week into the trip we were dropped off in a neighborhood of Jerusalem within walking distance of the Western Wall. We quickly learned and participated in the rules of Shabbat -no cell phones, no driving, no turning on electricity, no freedom…wait, not that last part. We walked to the home of an Orthodox Rabbi and were welcomed inside for a dinner with his family. The first thing I noticed was a styrofoam head in their bathroom, I’m assuming to hold the wig his wife was wearing. Observant Jewish women cover their heads and dress modestly, very modestly.
We were seated and the Rabbi prayed in Hebrew and gave us the English translations of what he was saying. He sang songs and blessed the food, the amazing food, the AMAZING food. Then, we got to ask him any questions we wanted.
Talk about a real life cultural experience. In another life I would be a religious studies major so I sort of geek out on this type of thing. Shabbat is the Hebrew word for Sabbath, and the essence of it is to rest. The observant implement God's same rhythm of work and rest, and they implement it religiously (pun?).
My initial reaction was to rear my little liberal American ego and find the rules to be confining and legalistic. I wanted to stand up for this woman who was wearing a wig and covered head to toe in thick fabric. I’m suddenly the hulk of women’s rights...but really I’m not. I think she has the right to believe in modesty and it doesn’t make her weak or oppressed, it makes her equally as strong. So I had to adjust my perspective and embrace the heart behind the rules. When I did, I learned something, as I find I often do when I put down my bias and listen to learn.
On Shabbat they completely unplug. What at first glance seemed like a list of rules to follow suddenly sounded like freedom. I know that I’m not forced to look at my phone constantly but somehow I end up staring at it…way to often. NPR is currently doing an experiment in which they are exploring the beauty of boredom, of good old-fashioned zoning out. It’s good for us. Maybe checking our phones every minute we have a free second causes us to miss out on something else. Maybe our imaginations are hushed by this incessant input of information. Maybe our thought life is inch deep because we never allow our minds the time to explore. What if I unplugged? Took a day every week to silence the noisy chaos that is our ever connected and artificially communicative lives. The Rabbi told us of how he reads, studies, prays, talks, thinks, breathes and slows down. So, I’ll take a note from an Orthodox Rabbi on the other side of the world. Maybe they’ve figured something out that we haven’t. Maybe God gave them good advice. I guess I’ll give it a shot.
Photo by: Kevin Rogers