Sunday, March 3, 2013

D'var Torah for Shabbat Across America

There is a Latin phrase from Pliny the Elder with which you may be familiar -- in vino veritas, in wine there is truth. There is actually a similar phrase in the Talmud, Tractate Eruviin 65a, nichnas yayin, yatza sod -- when wine comes in, the secret goes out.

The Sfat Emet, a great hasidic teacher at the turn of the 20th century, taught that this is precisely why we have wine on Shabbat.

Huh? The Sfat Emet says that spirituality is actually secret, hidden. It is internal -- you can’t see it or measure it, but it’s there in the soul of every Jew, and it comes out on Shabbat -- with the help of a little bit of wine.

Shabbat rest is not just ceasing from our labors. The Sfat Emet wrote -- “of course every Jew sets aside his labor on Shabbat. But it’s important that not working on Shabbat not be experienced as a burden -- rather, he should be waiting in anticipation all week for Shabbat, which is where his real life is.”

It’s an interesting thought. Many of us make a distinction between our spiritual practices and “the real world.” We have our spirituality -- whether that is Shabbat, or kashrut, or prayer, or maybe something from another tradition such as yoga -- so that we can go out into the real world better-equipped to face its challenges. But the Sfat Emet says that Shabbat is the real world because it is the day we devote solely to spirituality -- and we can’t do that if our main worry is about what we’re missing out on while observing Shabbat. We don’t rest on Shabbat so that we can have strength for the other six days. We work on the other sixth days so that we can enjoy Shabbat.

The fastest growing group in American society today is those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” I think what that means is people who have a sense of the holy or the spiritual or the mystical but don’t want to get caught up in lots of rules. And I suspect that the Sfat Emet would have found a lot in common with these folks. Of course, as an Orthodox, Chasidic rabbi he takes it for granted that a Jew is going to follow all the rules. But if you only follow the rules, you haven’t really experienced Shabbat.

Perhaps we can learn from the Sfat Emet too. Instead of merely worrying about what we should ask people not to do on Shabbat, we ought to remind people what they should do as well. So on this Shabbat, I want to invite you to enjoy yourselves and to connect with your secret, inner, spiritual self. Shabbat Shalom.

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