A Sabbath Message: What Will You Take With You From This Journey?

I would rather think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to come together and make sense.” – Rabbi Harold Kushner

As the weekly gift of Sabbath arrives once again, I am reminded of a story told in a prayer book my father had in his library, which is now in mine:

            “A great pianist was once asked by an ardent admirer: ‘How do you handle the notes as well as you do?’ The artist answered: ‘The notes I handle no better than many pianists, but the pauses between the notes – ah! That is where the art resides.' In great living, as in great music, the art may be in the pauses. Surely one of the enduring contributions which Judaism made to the art of living was the Shabbat, ‘the pauses between the notes.’ And it is to Shabbat that we must look if we are to restore to our lives the sense of serenity and sanctity which it offers in such joyous abundance.” 

Life is a journey, and as we have seen, often a challenging one, and taking time to pause from our journey, allows us time to reflect and achieve wisdom. And while I certainly do not necessarily suggest that we all observe Sabbath in the same way, the core idea is built into our tradition – and the notion seems to have a great deal of merit. In the same way we are told that God stood back from the world which God created on the 7th day, a painter must stand back from the canvas of a masterpiece he or she is painting, otherwise they have no perspective by which to judge their work. And, in fact, some would argue that the reflection is part of the work itself, as this is where much of the thought takes place.

In a similar way, this process of reflection gives us an opportunity to begin to consider what this challenging time will mean for our lives in the long term – what will we take from this unique journey? As I grow older, which seems to be even faster and every minute, I have decided that I prefer to think of obstacles in my life more as opportunities to attain wisdom – and challenges more as a journey from which to grow and learn. And while I prefer journeys like the European trip I took last summer for a large wedding anniversary (and an even larger birthday), there are other types of journeys which offer valuable life lessons – and I believe we are experiencing one of those right now with this pandemic, as well as the important fight for social justice facing our country. A truly unique moment in history – and in our lives. 

And so, I leave you with this challenge: What will you take from this journey when it ends? As the LA Times put it in a recent interview conducted with a group of readers: “What New Habits Are Keepers?” What are the new lessons or behaviors you have learned to value from this time? A few listed in the article may resonate with you (and there were many others): 

  • Staying in touch with friends I would normally “call next week”
  • Continuing to appreciate those who do for others, and to do so myself
  • Spending more time with family and less rushing around; being more present
  • Staying in far more constant contact with my extended family all over the country with Zoom
  • Tidying my bedroom every morning
Some weeks ago, I presented another challenge to ask you to express your gratitude. I received some beautiful and very personal responses. Thank you for those. So, in that spirit, I will share that I think that is what I will take from this journey: gratitude. Gratitude for my full and meaningful life and work, my wonderful family, friends and colleagues – my community – and you. In a time of challenge, it is good to remember the riches in your life and how much there is to be truly grateful for – including a beautiful sunset, like the one captured above by one of my dearest friends on her evening walk.  Sometimes, we only have to look heavenward for beauty.    

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom – and a thoughtful respite from your life’s journey,

Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service