When The World Is Too Much With Us:
By Ruth Broyde Sharone
"The World is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." (William Wordsworth)
About three years ago, I made an important decision about deepening my commitment to Jewish practice. The result of that decision led me to an important discovery that I have never forgotten.
I had been attending synagogue regularly every Saturday morning for many years, but I had continued working in the afternoons. I justified it because, as an interior designer, I found it difficult to see my clients who had day jobs during the weekdays. Evenings proved equally difficult, especially because that was time I spent with my children. That left only Saturday afternoons and Sundays for scheduling appointments with my working clients.
Slowly, however, in subtle ways I began noticing my discomfort and ambivalence about beginning the Sabbath in prayer and contemplation and then suddenly being in the mode of "getting and spending." My deepening connection to the Sabbath and the special mood I was able to create would dissipate when I became involved in work and material matters. I experienced it as a "disconnect." Finally I decided that I would not accept any more work on the Sabbath.
I felt good about my decision. One morning, however, I received a call from Karen, one of my best clients, with whom I had worked for many years. Karen had recommended me to her friend, Joanna, and she was calling to tell me how perturbed she was when she found out from Joanna that I wouldn't work on Saturdays. "You always worked on Saturdays for me."
I took a deep breath. "Yes, I know," I acknowledged, "but something has changed in my life. I made a commitment as part of my spiritual and religious practice, not to work on the Sabbath, and not to do any work which could contribute towards my earning a living."
"Well, I guess you don't care about your livelihood if you made such a decision," Karen said, with an edge to her voice. "After all, we work all week long, and we have such long hours that we can't even see you in the evenings, which only leaves Saturday and Sunday."
"I can hear the level of your frustration and consternation in your voice at this new information," I affirmed, "but this is a serious decision which I did not arrive at lightly. And I'm truly sorry for the inconvenience to you and Joanna."
There was a long silence. I waited, expecting and fearing that Karen would announce that our working relationship was terminated.
"Well then," she finally said, "we'll make it on Sunday."
I thanked her, and we said goodbye. I hung up the phone, a broad grin spreading across my face. I looked heavenwards and addressed my comments out loud to the Creator: "You were testing me, weren't you...to see if my commitment was real, and to see if I could not be swayed from my resolve to make the Sabbath holy?" I experienced God's smile in return, as a canopy of warmth spread over me.
Since then, I've never reneged on my commitment, even turning down money that I needed. The money I sacrificed would always come back in another form, I soon discovered. But a Sabbath lost is a Sabbath lost forever.
When I read the above story, it reminded me how Shabbos can prevent us from becoming overly attached to our livelihood or work projects. In my own life, I have discovered that the ability to stop working before sundown on Friday can actually be a liberating experience. I have also discovered that when I am less attached to my work projects, I am more free to give to others, as well as to myself. In addition, I often get my most creative ideas on Shabbos, and a number of my friends who keep Shabbos have the same experience. This spiritual creativity is one of the blessings which we receive when we acknowledge the sovereignty of the Shabbos Queen:
In this spirit, we sing the following words at the Shabbos table:
"She is holy to you, the Shabbos Queen, within your homes to bestow blessing. In all your dwellings do no work." (Baruch Kel Elyon)
The new month of Kislev – the month which concludes with the celebration of Chanukah – has arrived. Have a Chodesh Tov –a Good Month!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen