Sunday, September 13, 2009

Labor Day and Day of Rest

At the alternative service at Temple B’nai Brith yesterday, my friend Marya Axner led in us a reflection on the rhythm of labor and rest in Jewish life. When we are being true to ourselves and true to God, we don’t work until we fall down exhausted and rest only to work again. Six days we labor, trying to make the world better. On the seventh we rest, thinking about things that matter. When we return to work, that sense of what matters is the mission statement that keeps us on track and helps us do what’s important, let go of what’s inconsequential, and be able to avoid burnout and keep on making a difference for the long haul.

It takes a lot of work to be able to rest.

Practically speaking, to make Shabbat, we have to prepare meals, buy or bake fresh challah, keep candles and wine at hand, sometimes invite guests. To put the week aside with a clear conscience, we have to organize our work in the workplace and our work to take care of our homes, our causes, and our communities so that everything gets done when it needs to and no one is left in the lurch. Even if we have done this, it’s not easy to cast off the uniform one’s mind and soul wear all week and don the splendid robes of the kings and queens we are supposed to become on Shabbat. It’s impossible to do if you work down to the last minute. It takes time, to leave those cares behind and put oneself in the frame of mind to receive a beloved guest, the Sabbath, which the tradition also pictures as a Queen who deserves all the honor we can give her.

I speak about this from personal experience. I am always true to the Sabbath, in my fashion (as the song says)…but it is not easy, only beautiful and right. Here is a poem I wrote about it nearly twenty-five years ago:

A Song of Songs, by Dennis Fischman

I have been a lover to the Queen before.

For me, she set her tender feet

to walking the long road stretching

from yesterday to tomorrow

and I met her halfway

as evening drew a woven shawl around

the bare shoulders of an innocent world

at the fork in the road I stood, singing

“Come, my friend, to meet the bride”

and our twinned flames spurted into falling night.

But now, though she seeks me, I sit

Amongst my books and papers, murmuring

“Not yet: I’m not ready yet,”

Muttering and fidgeting, as if my word

Could hold back the stars.

I have bought no wine, no braided bread—

and here she comes,

laughing, giving voice to song,

“Return us, and we shall return”

and I know

once again, I’ll cajole her with sweet incense

to stay one hour more

and she’ll slip away, whispering

“observe” and “remember” in the same short breath.

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