The Gift of Rest

Friday, 5 April, 2024 - 3:37 am

One day, during the corona pandemic, on yet another day of partial lockdowns and social distancing, I took a one-day train trip to the mountains. I wanted to get away for a few hours from the noise of the world and enjoy some internal peace and quiet, and therefore I decided to leave my phone at home, taking a book along instead. The book I took was Zman Shabbat (original English title: The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath) which had just been published in Hebrew by Maggid, translated by Ayelet Sackstein.

This wonderful book, written by the highest-ranking Jew in American politics, was eminently suitable for my day off. In it, Lieberman describes Shabbat, starting from the preparations on Friday and going all the way to havdala on Motzai Shabbat. It is laced with fine Jewish American humor and stories about special Shabbatot, and explains some Shabbat halachas as well.

Americans familiar with American politics would have enjoyed the book much more than an Israeli like me, but, in any case, what fascinated me most was the gap between the everyday senator and the Yosef of Shabbat, between the six-day-a-week vice-presidential candidate and the Jewish child he became on the seventh. Here is one example: “On Friday afternoon I would arrive home from school and immediately breathe in the fragrance of chicken soup, meat or kugel, or anything else that was cooking. I would go to the stove, remove the pot cover of the chicken soup, take a whiff and a spoonful. Years later, when for the first time Hadassah saw me doing this in my mother’s kitchen, she was upset.

“’How could you do such a thing?’ she asked me in her most well-brought-up tone.

“’It’s my tradition,’ I answered, smiling broadly, as if I were Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof.”

Too many times I hear and read that the Shabbat is seen as something heavy, hard, a day of forbidden things and permitted things, and even a day of bitter strife and subject to various political views. Joe Lieberman describes Shabbat as it is experienced by those who observe it – an enchanting, pleasant and elevated day, a day of different rhythms and flavors. For instance: “Among the special flavors of Shabbat there is also the flavor of instant coffee. You might think that the flavor of instant coffee is inferior to that of coffee from the coffee-making machine. I agree, but on Shabbat its advantage is that it is different.”

Even his description of walking in Washington rain at night for an hour-and-a-half, soaked to the skin, has a sort of softness to it, and describes the wonderful submission of a Jew who observes Shabbat.

Not for nothing does he say in the introduction to the book: “When people ask me: How can you stop all your work as a senator to keep Shabbos every week? I answer: How could I have done all my work as a senator if I wouldn’t have stopped and kept Shabbos every week?”

I remembered all of this because Yosef Lieberman z”l passed away last week, and I so much want to transmit his Shabbos experience, which is quite similar to my own, to anyone who thinks or feels differently, and also, because he deserves much honor for representing Judaism with such pride.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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