The lawyer's Question: What does not pressing a button on a microwave have to do with resting on Shabbos?

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I hope you had a great week.  My week was fantastic.  Natanya and I worked really hard and accomplished so many things, but what made the week so great is that we seemed to accomplish more than we usually do with the same amount of effort.  You know what I mean;  sometimes things just go and sometimes they don't.

Which brings me to the point of Shabbos.  While still in yeshiva, a very "reformed" lawyer asked me a tough question that I pondered for years:  The Torah commands us to rest on Shabbos, but rest 3,000 years ago was different than it is today!  To cook a soup then meant slaughtering and preparing a chicken, going to the garden and picking vegetables, cutting wood, building a fire and drawing water from the well.  That's real work.  Today however, putting an instant soup in the microwave and pressing a button is easy!  G-d commanded us to rest, and you can still heat up a soup while resting!?

I've asked the same question to myself in different ways too.  I don't drive on the Shabbos.  If I need to get somewhere far, I might walk hours to get there.  What is more restful, driving 5 miles or walking it?  Another point:  Sitting down and watching TV is called work?  That's we everyone does at the end of a long day to relax!  Phones, computers, internet and technology have created less work for us, not more.  Shouldn't we spend the Shabbos on our tech devices to enjoy ourselves on this day even more?

The questions are good, but the answer is even better.  Let me ask you a question:  When G-d created the world, was He tired at the end of each day?  The reason we are commanded to rest on Shabbos is because G-d rested on the seventh day.  What was G-d resting from?

The answer must be that G-d didn't rest from labor intensive work.  G-d rested from creating.  For six days, G-d was creating a world.  On the seventh day, instead of creating, G-d just was.  He was being.

Listen here because this is super important.  In life there are two modes:  (1) Doing and (2) being.  They are both important.  Doing is what makes the world spin.  Doing pays the bills, solves problems, and prepares delicious food.  But sometimes, we want more than doing.  It's like the host (or Jewish mother)  who constantly is asking if there's anything they can do, while you're thinking to yourself, "I don't want you do anything!  I just want you to be here with me!"  Doing is great for business, but for relationships, being is what makes them fulfilling (yes they need doing too, but you can hire people to do almost everything.  You can't hire someone to be there with you).

Being is an art that takes practice.  Shabbos is our weekly practice of being.  And I would argue that we need the Bible's kind of rest more than ever before.  In His infinite wisdom, G-d advised us against things that 3,000 years later would become iPhones, TV's, cars and microwaves.

If you think about each one of these devices, you can see how they take you out of that mode of being.  iPhones connect you across the world, allow you to respond to your super important business email within minutes and indeed can make it easy to find that address.  They also make it very difficult to be present.  One of the boys in our community tells me about how sad he is for his grandmother whenever his family treks our to visit her.  The kids (and grown ups for that matter) are all glued to their phones, and don't pay attention to her any more.  Two people recently pardoned from long prison sentences both commented immediately about how they don't understand how absorbed people are in their phones.  TV's send you all the latest gossip and politics seconds after becoming available but they don't help you connect with your wife and children.  They definitely don't help you become present, even if they can send you tens of thousands of miles away to the worlds biggest crises.  Cars:  While it may be more time consuming to walk five miles, even the knowledge that you can drive in a car opens the horizons, which in turn make being present difficult.  "Maybe I should drive to LA.  Maybe I should go here, or there.  When you know that the only way of getting somewhere is walking, you're forced to stop and smell the roses.  It teaches us that we don't have to rush, get there faster and do.  We can go slow and just be.  Even microwaves:  When you know that everything you need for the next 24 hours is prepared, it allows you to relax in a way that you just can't understand if you haven't experienced it.  By allowing yourself to cook something that wasn't prepared beforehand, even if it's as simple as pressing a button, you've lost that moment of being present.

You could go through all of the "restrictions" of Shabbos and find how they really are intended to keep us being present.  Like the restriction on cleaning dishes or doing anything for after Shabbos.  If your house is so dirty that you can't enjoy being in it, you can clean (with some guidelines), but any chores must directly enhance your ability to be, and enjoy this sacred day.

Doesn't it make sense?  Today in 2018, we need the primitive and medieval Shabbos even more than they did 3,000 years ago!

Now my question is the other way.  It makes sense that today in a world of cars, phones, computers and instant coffee brewers that we need Shabbos to practice being.  Back in the desert, where they had food from heaven, didn't work during the week & weren't bombarded with media, what was holding them back from being present?  Why did they need Shabbos then?  (I wish I could go back to that highly reformed lawyer who asked me the question years ago, and ask him my question!)  
It's kind of similar to this doctor who told me, "I don't need these restrictions, because I've already mastered the art of being present."
All I can say, is that G-d in His infinite wisdom gave Shabbos to the Jews desert.  If they needed it, we do too, regardless of how enlightened you are.  If you experience real Shabbos, you'll know the answer.  Yes it takes work, practice and getting used to, but the rest of Shabbos is like a deep clean for our weary souls from the nonstop bombardment of today's reality.  No amount of self-help can do what Shabbos does, even for the masters.

And there's a bonus.  Hashem guarantees that when we rest on Shabbos, our time and effort will be more productive during the week.  And that's what I experienced this week.  It was like a whole month's worth of work came together in just 6 days.

Have a beautiful, restful Shabbos, and I'll see you tomorrow morning to continue the discussion and see this concept in the Torah portion, Noach.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Abrams


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