Friday, April 18, 2008

Rami's Response to Mike 4/17

You played “Public Speaker”? How did that work? Did you line up your stuffed animals and toy soldiers and then deliver speeches to them? I won’t pursue this, but it is a bit weird. So let’s get back to the Fourth Commandment: “remember” the Sabbath.

What does it mean to remember? Since the rationale for the Sabbath given in Exodus is the seventh day of creation, I would suggest it is Creation we are to remember, and doing so somehow reveals the deeper meaning of the Sabbath. Let me explain:

Torah tells us that the nature of reality is tohu v’vohu: wild, unformed, and chaotic (Genesis 1:2). God doesn’t defeat chaos, but lays creation over it as a kind of linguistic veneer: God speaks the world into existence. When we remember the Sabbath we remember that we too use words to create order amid chaos, and how we can get so enamored with those words as to mistake them for reality. We in effect make idols out of our words and worship them. I see this when people tell me Muslims don’t pray to God but to Allah, refusing to accept the fact that Allah is simply Arabic for “God”.

On the Sabbath we are invited to surrender our idols: our notions of surety, order, certainty, and security; and we are challenged to live one day without them; to live one day in the unknown and unknowable which is the Presence of God.

Six days a week I do all I can to make sense out of life; to deny chaos, or force it to conform to my understanding of order. This is exhausting. But on the seventh day I can give this up. I can let things be as they are: tohu v’vohu: wild, unconditioned, and fundamentally unconcerned with my happiness and welfare. But this is not a day of despair.

We Jews speak of Oneg Shabbat, Sabbath joy, because when we allow reality to be reality, and realize we are not able to control it; we suddenly discover that we are able to navigate it. Remembering the Shabbat teaches how to surf the chaos rather than conquer it, and that insight just might make our living in the week to come that much lighter and more loving.

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