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No More Humpty Dumpty

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Simcha Barnett

Shabbat is the day to enjoy the person you have become.

It's Friday afternoon of an endless New York winter, and I'm scooting across a busy intersection to do a bunch of last minute errands before Shabbat. As I plot my course, I see a sports car gun his engine to cut in front of a truck just ahead of him, only to slam on his brakes ten feet later at the red light. The disgruntled trucker yells out in exasperation, "Everyone's in such a big hurry and they got nowhere to go!"

Was he talking to the guy in the sports car or to me? Our society seems to be perpetually running -- to go somewhere, do something, or meet somebody. And all of it is really important, no doubt. But a person can sometimes feel as if life is spent running on a treadmill, and he wonders, for all the running, am I really going anywhere?

If life is spent running on a treadmill, am I really going anywhere?

When I studied philosophy in college, a frequent topic of discussion was the tension between Being and Becoming. Becoming is the endless pursuit of something you want or want to be. Being is the experience of feeling, enjoying and living as the person that you have become; at peace, integrated, with nowhere to go (at least not yet) and just enjoying life as you are.

We all have moments like this -- on top of a mountain in Aspen, maybe early in the morning in our homes as we take a peek at our children asleep in their beds, or as we gaze into the eyes of the people we love. It's when the little things in life, which too often get in the way, melt into the background.

But it seems that as our lives become filled with more and more, we get these moments less and less. And although we crave Being, we are consumed with Becoming, and our true selves are drowned out.

Center of Gravity

Shabbat, however, is a day of pure being, of living with the things which matter most and are often tended to the least -- God, family, and self. I always explain to my kids that just as Humpty Dumpty lost his balance up there on the wall, we too can be pulled in so many directions that we lose our center of gravity. Shabbat brings us back to the core of who we are and allows us to integrate the accomplishments of the week as an extension of self, not at the expense of self.

Humpty didn't have a space in his life called Shabbat.

And the ultimate fate of Humpty Dumpty -- all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again -- is because Humpty didn't have a space in his life called Shabbat -- our weekly appointment with Being.

Shabbat is translated as "rest," but more literally it comes from the word "return." When something returns to its place it is at rest. On Shabbat, we return home, to the essence of who we are, and we recognize and nurture the real relationships in our lives. As we take a break from the "becoming" mode, we pull back from the creative manipulation of our world and we enjoy the place that we are in now -- a real place that will never be returned to again, once this Shabbat has slipped away.

Shabbat also helps us to gain our spiritual bearings to more healthfully, and appropriately continue in the mode of Becoming in the week ahead. Hopefully, this quest will be more purposeful and meaningful due to the spiritual rejuvenation and focus which Shabbat provides.

Spice of Shabbat

I like to think of Shabbat as a yearly business retreat, where all of the employees remember, recommit to and our re-energized by the companies' vision and business plan. They are also empowered by the prospects of their role in making this vision a reality. Shabbat is a weekly Jewish spiritual retreat with the power of re-connecting us to our souls and to our collective mission in this world.

No flavor in the world that can replicate the spice and spirit of Shabbat.

The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Yehudah who invited the Roman emperor to dinner on Shabbat. They ate a scrumptious five-course meal, and when it was all finished, the emperor asked for the recipes.

During the week, the emperor's chef prepared all of the recipes, but somehow nothing tasted quite the same. The emperor asked Rabbi Yehudah if he could help.

"Your chef omitted a key ingredient!" explained Rabbi Yehudah. "But there's no flavor in the world that can replicate the intangible spice and spirit of Shabbat."

It is, after all, priceless: the sweetness of true Being.

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