When we love a piece of clothing, or a pair of shoes, we face a dilemma. We want to wear these things whenever it’s appropriate, but we also want them to last.
And when the item finally does wear out, in my own experience it’s usually someone else who breaks the bad news that it’s time for me to part with it, and, eventually, and reluctantly, I do.
Clothing and other things wear out, and so do we. We fight back against fatigue with caffeine, the occasional nap, and otherwise. John is one of my former coaches at UFC Gym, a man who is strong, and does endurance and strength races. I told him I started to drink more water each morning and less caffeine and that it helped me to feel better. I expected him to wholeheartedly endorse my new habit. He smiled and said, “Yes, I do drink a glass of water first but then I need my coffee.”
Shabbat is a time each week we face the reality that we all get worn out, tired, and need a re-fresh. This Shabbat though we read something in Ekev, our parshah, about the way our clothes did not wear out over the 40 years in the wilderness, and our feet did not swell from the rigors of walking countless miles – meaning that our shoes held together, too.
So how come our clothes no longer miraculously survive decades of use? How come our feet hurt at the end of the day?
As Rabbenu Bachya emphasizes in reflecting on these miracles, God changes the way nature functions. Others emphasize that the clothing the Israelites wore when leaving Egypt grows with them over time.
Curiously, Moses says nothing about the people themselves!
Judging by their rebellious behavior throughout the journey, their nerves are frayed, strained, even broken.
And it is for that reason that God gives Shabbat to our ancestors in the wilderness and to us.
Shabbat is not a miracle cure. In fact, it’s not necessarily even restful. A friend in college woke up late in the afternoon one Saturday and said, “I feel like I slept right through Shabbat.” And I wondered whether a full day of sleep, of restorative rest, would fulfill either the letter or spirit of our weekly holiday. And I concluded that it would not. While our tradition says, “Ha’shena meshubachat”, on Shabbat ‘sleep is praiseworthy’, Shabbat is a form of rest and renewal that is more active. Shabbat can leave us feeling physically tired at the same time as we recharge our neshamah, our spirit, for the week ahead.
Moses focuses on the physical -- miracle clothes and healthy feet.
Shabbat attempts to reprogram our perceptions, primarily our perception of time.
We usually talk about time as though it’s a physical thing or product – with expressions like to make time, to have time, to waste time. It sounds like all time is the same, one thing, and that we can create more of it as needed – if only! Shabbat reminds us that all time is not the same and it is a precious resource. Time is a gift, and time is holy, more holy than things. Without time, the world as we know it does not exist & we end up like Alice in Wonderland.
This Shabbat we can begin to appreciate in a fresh, new way the gift of Shabbat by following the inspiration of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – on Shabbat we appreciate that the sun, the moon, the people we love, the trees, flowers and everything – we appreciate that it all exists, and we don’t have to add anything to it. For one day, as our Rabbis teach, we convince ourselves (as much as is possible) all our work is done, all tasks completed, and we take together one, long, deep breath…ahhh!
Clothes and shoes wear out, but Shabbat never does. As the great Achad Ha’am taught us, “More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” In a nod to our ancestors, let’s take our shoes off while it’s still warm, let our feet feel the texture of the grass, or sand, and take us back to that moment at the end of a week of creation, when God, on the very first Shabbat, stops, looks around at everything that had been created, and says, “Hineh tov m’od, it is all very good.”