Erev Shabbat: The Race to Stop
There is something about Fridays, about Erev Shabbat, that hits me each week. Most Fridays are similar - in the office by 9, finalize our Virtual Siddur and our outline, look over Torah or my sermon, finish the last tasks that can't wait until next week. Usually I'm winding down by lunch. Then I leave the office, eat something, and get the house ready for Shabbat. I'll clean up the living room (especially when we have streaming services), get the kids to straighten up a bit while my husband makes the challah, make a few phone calls, and then we've got dinner to do. Sometimes if everything goes well, I can even take a pre-Shabbat nap.
This afternoon time is so precious to me. It's not yet Shabbat, but already the house is fussing over making it happen, trying to beat the sunset so we can all just put down the week and rest. There's something exquisite about the anticipation of that rest that permeates the entire day on Friday. It makes these tasks of cleaning and cooking different from the other cleaning and cooking we do throughout the week. During the week, these tasks are a demanding and constant part of the grind. But on Friday afternoon, it's a race to stop, a finite list with an inevitable and set deadline with the reward of rest on the other side.
Especially now, while working from home in a pandemic where we rarely leave our homes, where our work lives bleed into our home lives, where our work computers and checklists taunt us even at night, where every day blurs into the next, that race to stop has become even more important. Nowhere else in our lives, in society, ever encourages us to stop. Here in America, the Protestant Work Ethic has robbed us of the pleasure of rest. Capitalism tells us that we should always be doing more or maximizing our productivity. Self-help culture tells us that even our rest should be productive, by working on ourselves or scheduling "self care" events and projects.
Shabbat is the opposite of all of that. Shabbat expressly says "stop being productive." Don't write, don't plan ahead, don't catch up on the news, don't buy more things, don't do anything like that. Just enjoy the world as it is. Enjoy the books you have. Enjoy the food you've prepared. Enjoy your family and friends. Be in the present and stop reaching for more. Just for a day, remember all you have and exist in it in gratitude.
American Jews may live very American lives, especially in Reform congregations like mine. But the Shabbat stop is intensely countercultural, and it begins with our Friday afternoon race to sunset. Shabbat is one of the few things in life we can call a "destination," a place and goal we can achieve, every week, just by stopping and celebrating where we are now.