There are some weeks when I just can’t deal with Shabbat.
I spend the whole week living like a pinball; bouncing and ricocheting through life. By the week’s end, the last thing I need is someone telling me how to relax.
Shabbat gets in the way all the time. Sometimes it’s because of my intense workload, or an event with friends I’m missing, or how nice it would be to just binge-watching TV.
I don’t work a nine-to-five, and my income is reliant on how hard I can push myself. When deadlines are crunched, an extra twenty-five hours is a major difference in what I could be accomplishing.
There are many times when I work right up until sunset, and feel like Shabbat isn’t really special. I have no time to cook or clean or prepare myself mentally for this anomaly of distance from the world that I’ve dedicated one day a week to. It’s not that I want to work this way, but my career demands it.
On those weeks, I shamefully rely on friends to feed me, or inspire me, or make me feel like the choice I made to keep an Orthodox version of Shabbat was the right call.
Friday nights are full of life, especially when the weather is nice. Why should I have a formal dinner and go to services when I could be at a crazy party? If the point of Shabbat is to abstain from work, what better way is there than to lose myself in a sea of people bouncing around a club, or seeing my favorite band who are in town for one night only?
Or better yet, if Shabbat is all about rebooting yourself, why can’t I play music? There is nothing that hits those relaxation and spirituality soft spots like tuning out the world for a bit and fiddling around on an instrument.
Many Jews would argue that there’s nothing wrong with music on Shabbat, and it has increasingly becoming a vice of mine to want to hear live music even though I’m still holding myself to a standard of not playing it.
Sometimes I walk by bars or restaurants that have live music on weekends and will stop to just soak it up. As a drummer, wantonly I clap along to songs at the synagogue to cheat at the no music rule.
I also struggle with Jewish communal life. Even Jews who don’t make it to services during the week typically put a priority on Shabbat attendance. But during the winter when days are shorter, it’s really tough to want to go to all the prayers because it leaves you without a time to nap or have quiet moments in between things.
Then Shabbat ends and what do you have to show for it, besides being exhausted after Shabbat? That to me isn’t a real Shabbat at all.
I acknowledge it’s hard to feel the power of the day when you deny synagogue attendance completely from your life, going the full Shabbat without any community. I’ve done it and sometimes it is great. But often, it is lonely.
I will admit an affinity for just sleeping in when I can. Sometimes that is the best use of the day.
I suppose the greater question is why do I bother with an Orthodox Shabbat if I have all these problems?
Well the first answer is worst one- guilt.
I’ve been slung a lot of Orthodox expectations over the years and it is a slow process to weed out what is actually the religion that I ascribe to and what are things I do because people told me long ago to blindly do them.
Shabbat is like the last line of defense, next to kosher, in being able to claim some kind of religious Judaism. If I gave it up, I would have to give up that classification as well.
And I’m not ready to make that leap.
Maybe I need to focus more on what I like about Shabbat.
When the time has finally come and the candles are lit, it takes me a long time to calm down, but when I do it can be blissful.
There’s finally that moment where there is nothing else you can do. Even though you want to, and even though it logically would be better to do any of the things I mentioned, there’s an undeniable power in just holding back and saying “not right now”.
Having 25 hours without my phone or the internet is also a real joy. I don’t miss them.
I like having debates with people where you can’t just Google the answer. I love that I’m unavailable to the world.
And that when you make plans with friends you have to meet up the old fashioned way, by agreeing on something and being held to your word.
Shabbat affords me the time to go for a long walk or to read a book that I don’t make time for otherwise.
It gives me a chance to make the best of those shameful Friday nights when I couldn’t get my act together, and allow myself to be a guest at someone’s table. To spend time with friends and have a drink without needing to drive home.
Most importantly, it’s time to reflect and get new ideas.
Even if they would be better accompanied by music.
And even if I forget half of them because I couldn’t write them down.
Except for this essay, which I thought of on Shabbat. And then wrote down after.