Among my family's pots and pans and stacks of magazines on the kitchen counter there were always two candlesticks rising above the rest of the clutter. They were clustered with fingerprint stains and coated with thick gobs of wax but somehow still retained their bronze-ish shine. And every Friday night since my grandpa passed away, my dad would make me stop what I was doing to light them.
I would yank myself from my bed, strike a match, and spit out a poorly pronounced version of a Hebrew prayer on fast-forward before racing out of the house to go hang with friends at the movies. The entire 'ritual' lasted maybe two minutes. But even though I was going through the motions, I was completely missing the point.
The lighting of these two candles is supposed to be a pause. It's supposed to usher in the weekly Jewish day of rest - Shabbat- but I treated it as an obligation and an inconvenience. I didn't really understand the true purpose and power of Shabbat until I came to Israel and was forced to experience it.
From Friday night to Saturday night, most of Israel shuts down. Stores are closed, buses don't run, and the streets are quiet. For the very religious, Shabbat means turning off your electronics and turning on your connection with God and your family. For me, this means a bigger hassle to get to the beach and a pretty boring day off. The first Shabbat here in Tel Aviv, I spent the entire day frantically searching for something to do. I did my yoga, I did my homework, and I did my writing, but those tasks only preoccupied me for about 4 hours. The rest of the day was spent trying to make work for myself. I took myself on a needlessly long walk and began googling potential internships for 6 months from now.
Both of the following Shabbats here have been spent meticulously trying to finagle a cheap and quick way to get to the beach and manufacture a false sense of productivity by getting tan and being with others. But for all of these days, I was completely missing the point. I was restlessly and relentlessly maintaining my need to be in a constant state of 'doing'. Whether that meant going out or doing work, I still felt the overwhelming desire to seize the day and to feel accomplished. There was no rest.
While the idea of Shabbat initially came from the Old Testament over 25 centuries ago, it still has important lessons for us today. It is an intentional opportunity to digest all the chaos of the past week and to reset for the coming week. And in Israel, whether you want to or not, the city does all that it can to encourage you to slow down and check in.
Despite my clinging to the American, constantly restless way of life, I'm slowly teaching myself that it is okay to take it easy and that it is productive in a less immediate way but a more profound way. When we give ourselves the space and the permission to slow down, we are creating a more resilient and healthy body and mind, ready to tackle all of the other crazy tasks of the days ahead. Like a perfect loaf of challah bread, we must give ourselves the time and the space to rise. Without this time for rest, the bread can stretch too thin and crack.