Saturday or Shabbat

From: Ken

Dear Rabbi,

My wife and I are both professionals, work all week indoors, and don’t get to see each other, or our children very much. We are very much challenged by the idea of observing Shabbat indoors, first in shul, then in the house. We need to get out with our kids, be active and celebrate “G‑d’s Creation” by using it, not refraining from enjoying it. It’s for this reason that we don’t keep the Shabbat. Do you have any insights that might help us resolve these tensions? Much thanks.

Dear Ken,

First, let me commend you on caring about Shabbat, and being honest about your dilemma.

Like yourselves, many people in our modern day are greatly challenged by the need to find a healthy balance between the demands of modern career life and traditional family values.

However, rather than viewing Shabbat as exacerbating the problem, you should really see that it’s the solution to the problem.

Two of the many pitfalls in the modern work ethic and routine is that people tend to view their own efforts as the source of their success. And, related to this, since professional success “depends” on time investment and effort, the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of one’s children are necessarily neglected.

These are two of the many ailments that Shabbat cures. Shabbat halts the cut-throat rat-race and says: Stop! Realize that G‑d is the source of the material world, and therefore the source of its blessing. Recall that there are more important things in life than one’s profession, like family and friends.

Now while you seem to recognize and recall this, you think that Shabbat is in the way. You want, as you say, to celebrate G‑d’s Creation by using it with your family, not refraining from enjoying it. But this is misleading.

When you give your kids a gift, and in their excitement they open up the wrapping, tear apart the packaging and then run off to play with the toy for hours, wouldn’t you expect them to thank you first, and give you a kiss and a hug? And not so much for the reason that you need the recognition, but rather because, out of your love for them, you want them to do what’s right and refined, for their sake.

Shabbat is not the time to use the world, but rather a prelude to using it by recognizing and thanking G‑d for being able to enjoy it, for our sake.

And when you take your family out to “celebrate” Creation, while you might have lots of fun, you are not necessarily spending quality time with them. Often, outings are more of a distraction from each other than a way of connecting with each other.

Shabbat, on the other hand, with the time spent walking together to and from shul, directly interacting with each other around the Shabbat table or learning, reading and discussing together with the children what they have learned during the week, is the ideal way to spend quality time of content with the family.

So Shabbat is not in the way of celebrating Creation with your family; it is the way to celebrate it.

That being said, there’s no reason why one can’t celebrate Creation on Shabbat without “using” it. A family can go for walks in the neighborhood, the park, a forest, along the shore or any other such place accessible and appropriate for Shabbat. Kids can play ball, frisbee and the like, and families and friends can even meet in a picnic-like setting. And even if one can’t go everywhere, do everything and for as long as he’d like to on Shabbat – there’s always Sunday!

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