Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3 )
GOOD MORNING! This morning I was reflecting on the name "Shabbat Shalom Fax" that Rabbi Packouz, of blessed memory, chose to name his weekly publication. While it is true that he originally intended it to be read on Shabbat, I believe there is a deeper message here as well.
We live in hectic times. Perhaps more hectic, intense, frenzied, and pressure-filled than any other time in history. The worst part is that we actually do this to ourselves! We are absolutely glued to our technology - our cell phones, tablets, and computers are constantly spewing out emails, texts, and alerts from social media and news outlets and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Every one of these messages demands that we pay attention NOW! In fact, if we don't answer a text, email, or instant message immediately, the sender often thinks something horrible has happened to us.
Thus, we are connected 24 hours a day. We are tethered to technology at work, at home, and most disturbingly in our bedrooms and bathrooms. Frankly, it's exhausting. Even worse, studies show that this constant barrage has disconnected us from the essence of who we are because we no longer spend time with our inner selves. The younger generation has also lost meaningful communication skills and social media depresses them as they wonder why their life isn't as happy and fulfilling as everyone else's.
Twenty-five years ago, I used to explain to my uneducated friends that Shabbat observance means dedicating one's time to be with family and friends and going to synagogue to personally connect with the Almighty. Additionally, in order to properly focus, we are prohibited from answering the phone, getting in the car, turning on lights, or watching television. My friends used to look at me cross eyed; "You mean I cannot watch the playoffs or go to the mall on Saturdays?!? That's NOT for me!"
Today, the attitude has shifted 180 degrees. Now they say; "You mean every week for 24 hours you are totally off the grid? That's brilliant! Who ever thought of such a concept?"
For thousands of years the Jewish people have had the secret to balancing life - Shabbat! One day a week from before sunset on Friday to after the stars come out Saturday night the Jewish people have celebrated Shabbat ("Shabbat" in Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew; "Sabbath" in English). For 24 hours, no phone calls, texts, emails, or social media. No traffic, no rushing around. Shabbat is a time to reconnect to the Almighty, to all things spiritual and to put the material world in proper perspective. For as the Almighty said, "You shall observe My Sabbaths for it is a sign between Me and you for all generations to know that I am the Lord, Who makes you holy" (Exodus 31:13).
It used to be that the norm for the Jewish people was to celebrate and observe the Shabbat. The declination in observance is not because we know more or are better educated in our heritage than our ancestors. Perhaps in secular knowledge we know more than our forebearers, but a Jew in our age can have a Ph.D. in physics and be on a kindergarten level in his Torah knowledge.
I'd like to paint a picture of what Shabbat is like in the mind of a Shabbat observer: All week long it's work hard, run around, accomplish ... but in the back of one's mind it's 4 days to Shabbat, it's 3 days to Shabbat, it's 2 days to Shabbat, tomorrow's Shabbat! And then on Friday, we look forward to finishing off the day's work in time to come home in time to shower, change into Shabbat clothes, and help with the last minute preparations.
Eighteen minutes before sunset, the candles are lit and if it's a mother who is lighting them she will say a special prayer and then give each of her children a blessing. A sense of peace spreads over the household. A special quiet. A spiritual warmth. That's it; the work week is over. Whatever was supposed to be accomplished was accomplished. What didn't get accomplished will just have to wait until Shabbat is over.
Shabbat has been called an Island in Time ... peace and tranquility, a time for family and friends. A time that puts life in perspective. The Friday night meal starts with the kiddush prayer said over wine or grape juice. Then comes the motzie, the blessing for bread over the two challahs. Why two challahs? The Torah tells us that on Shabbat during the 40 years in the desert, we received a double portion of manna on Friday to last through Shabbat. The meal may go on for two to three hours starting with questions for the kids on the week's Torah portion, special Shabbat songs, words of Torah giving insights into life ... and talking and being with the ones you love! And all of that punctuated by delicious courses of food - soup, fish, salad, chicken, kugels, drinks, desserts. Shabbat is special and every effort goes into making it special, particularly the food.
Want to bring Shabbat into your life? The easiest way is to find a Shabbat observant friend and ask him if you could come for a meal. Don't be hesitant. He will be thrilled that you ask! Avraham, our forefather, had a tent with 4 doors open to all directions so that passersby could come for a meal. He instilled the value of kindness and hospitality into our Jewish nature. Probably if a friend asked if he could come to your home for a meal with your family, you would be happy; don't think your friend's reaction would be any less than yours! As you see how different families celebrate the Shabbat, you can incorporate into your own Shabbat celebration the foods, customs, and even songs.
I find it very meaningful that this publication is called the Shabbat Shalom Fax. As you may know, the Hebrew word Shalom has a few meanings - hello, goodbye, and peace. But did you know that our rabbis teach us that Shalom is also one of the names that refer to the Almighty? The word Shalom comes from the root word "Shalem," which means "whole." This is why the word naturally refers to peace - because true peace comes from a united whole. Therefore, the term "Shabbat Shalom" may be understood to refer to the unification ushered in on Shabbat; reconnecting to the Almighty, to ourselves, our family and friends, and our larger community. The very purpose of this publication is to accomplish all of these larger goals, thus it is called the "Shabbat Shalom Fax."
Vayetzei, Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
This week we have the trials and tribulations of Jacob living with and working for his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob agreed to work as a shepherd 7 years for Rachel only to have Laban switch daughters on him at the marriage ceremony. This is why we have the badekin ('covering' ceremony) where the groom sees the face of his bride to ensure he is marrying the right woman before he covers her with the veil.
As Jacob tries to build his equity, Laban changes their agreement time after time. After 20 years, the Almighty tells Jacob the time has come to return to the land of Canaan. Jacob and his household secretly leave only to be pursued by Laban who has claims to put forth. The story ends with peace and blessings between Jacob and Laban.
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