On Sabbath

Last year, a couple o friends invited me to join them for a Shabbat lunch in Paris. All details had been set in advance, as they would not pick up the phone that day. The food had been made the day before, and kept warm overnight on a special hot plate. When I came in, there was a shawl over the TV screen, and the table was set, beautifully. My friends were smiling and happy.

We shared a delicious meal together, followed by a song, prayer, and a reading. Then we discussed history, current affairs, literature. We went for a walk to the park, deep in conversation, contemplating ideas, observing people, remembering the past. I escorted them back home, then turned on my mobile phone, jumped into the metro, and returned to my Goy life.

One of the beauties of Judaism, as I’ve seen it practiced and described, is the concrete clarity of the rules guiding daily life. On Shabbat – from nightfall on Friday to nightfall on Saturday – you shall not work. Rules debated over centuries define activities allowed and forbidden. What remains is not a vacuum of boredom or mindless ritual. The day we spent together had books, friendships, reflection, and joy.

I often struggle to rest. The idea of a Sabbath is appealing. But I find the boundaries of my work so fuzzy that I can’t imagine what it would exactly look like. Without the strict rules of a religion, not only guiding me, but also creating collective meaning – I find it difficult. I stayed in bed this morning, leisurely read books for my thesis, exchanged a few messages on Facebook, watched ‘Empire Strikes Back’, and wrote this piece. Next, I’ll be heading to a birthday party. I feel reasonably rested, but not certain this was a proper Sabbath.