This misguided and shallow understanding of the Sabbath would have us
believe that man's noblest goal is physical toil rather than moments of
spiritual reflection. But the fact that the Sabbath is the holiest day of
the week--by far transcending the six preceding days of work--belies this
theory. On the contrary, in Judaism the six days of work are all a
preparation for the one glorious day of rest.
Still, the chaotic times that we live in are governed by emergencies in which everything seems urgent and pressing. Never before has man been so harried. The ambient noise of life is constantly punctuated by ringing mobile phones, dinging tones of e-mail messages awaiting urgent answers, and the high-pitched screams of fax machines.
But ours is the most literate, educated, and informed generation of all time--surely we know the difference between the ephemeral and the eternal, the urgent and the important! But while we may know the difference, do we have the courage to respect that difference? If recognizing and honoring the truly important means missing out on the next big account/deal/job/trade--are we willing to make that sacrifice?
Surely this is not because parents today love their children any less than parents did in the past. Indeed, we all recognize that time spent with children is important. So we sit down to play with our children or to read them a story. But suddenly, the phone rings. And while our children are surely much more important than the phone call, the call is urgent. Later, when we return to the story (now cranky and migraine-inflicted as we have just learned that our financial portfolio has taken a dive), we look at our watch and remember that the gym will only be open for another half hour, so once again we run to accomplish the urgent and in the process compromise the truly important.
It is for this reason that G-d gave man the Sabbath, a 24-hour period in which nothing whatsoever is urgent. The Sabbath is not about learning a sense of priorities. Rather it is about being elevated to a higher sense of reality. On the Sabbath, we discover that what we think of as urgent is actually nonexistent. When a father discovers the true pleasures of playing with his children, making money becomes simply utilitarian. The two are utterly incomparable. One is real and everlasting; the other is ephemeral and illusory.
Imagine: A family sits down at the Sabbath table to partake of the Sabbath feast. The father makes the blessing on the cup of wine, which is then drunk by the entire family. They wash their hands for the eating of the challah, the special braided Shabbos bread, and then indulge in the sheer peace, serenity, and pleasure of the Shabbos feast.
My dentist is an orthodox Jew and a close friend. On one occasion, he put a filling in my tooth that dissolved the very next day. I could not eat on that side of my mouth and called him at home, telling his daughter that it was urgent. She returned to the phone saying that her father was preoccupied. "Tell him it's an emergency. My filling has fallen out." She again returned to the phone. "My Daddy said that he is celebrating his mother's 82nd birthday, and you will just have to call him in the morning at the office." The Bible says that honoring one's parents is a sacred duty. My tooth--not being as important as a mother's birthday--would have to wait.
Now, imagine if we could each make just make two hours every day into a personal Sabbath. A mother sits to play with her children on a Wednesday evening. The phone rings, but she refuses to answer it. Her children are her Sabbath. A man talks to his wife when he returns from work. The time he spends working on his marriage is sacred time that cannot be infiltrated. While he knows that the game that will make or break his fantasy football team is on, he chooses instead to share with his wife the stories of their respective days. He has made his wife the Sabbath.
The first step in reorganizing our priorities and strengthening our relationship with G-d and our loved ones is to set aside two periods each day that must be treated as the Sabbath. This pause lends us dignity. It means that we can switch off, that we are not beasts of burden born for the yoke. Every morning upon awakening, we must offer prayers to G-d from the depths of our heart and without any interruption, thanking Him for all that we have and imploring Him for our daily bread. And second, when we arrive home from work each evening, we must give our spouse and children uninterrupted quality time, never to be infiltrated by transient concerns. And when we live by this ethic, we will transform ourselves from human doings, into human beings.