Parashat Emor 5779

Cantor Tamara Wolfson – 12 May 2019

Achieving a Perfect Rest

This Thought for the Week is the last piece of work I will do before I close my laptop and put it away for the next ten days. My email auto-reply is set, my bags are packed, and my passport is at hand. I’m gearing up for a long-awaited trip back home to the States: a holiday that is absolutely jam-packed from morning until evening each day with various appointments, get-togethers, and events — not to mention a wedding I’m officiating. While technically these next ten days will be days off from work, will they truly be days of rest? Almost certainly not.

I doubt I’m alone in scheduling myself a “working holiday”. We’ve all been guilty to some degree of depriving ourselves of true rest: a chance to shut off, shut down, disconnect. And we don’t just do this to ourselves on our holidays: we do it repeatedly, week by week. I relish the theoretical opportunity to observe a Shabbat of rest in my own progressive and meaningful way, but I haven’t quite figured out how to turn theory into practice.

This week’s parashah commands us: “Six days shall work be done and on the seventh day you must stop performing any work and proclaim it a Sabbath of rest. It is a Sabbath to God in all your dwelling places.”

And it’s not just a suggestion — it’s a commandment. Some may find it counter-intuitive to be commanded to rest. Rest is not only voluntary, but it is also immensely personal. To stop performing any work at all and to discover what true rest really feels like, we each need to buy into the process fully and figure out what rest means to each of us. No work calls, text messages, emails, meetings, appointments, etc might work for some of us. But for others, work is restful. We take sabbaticals, sometimes in order to rest and relax and have time with loved ones. But more often than not, we dive into a big research project, or write a long-awaited volume of essays. We have created a culture where even the sabbatical, the pinnacle of restful, non-creative down time, has become a working holiday. But these sabbaticals still play into our incessant drive to create.

God is asking us — commanding us — to see how it feels to stop creating for one day each week. But this cessation of creative work can perhaps attune us to the task we’ve got running in the background each and every day: the work of partnering with God in the continual re-creation and repair of the world. The work we were created for. And if God can stop and rest to appreciate God’s creation, perhaps we can do our part in taking a step back from our individual creations one day each week and take stock of the work we are doing with God, the work we do in God’s image. Maybe this is how it feels to achieve that elusive “perfect rest”: satisfied with our work, we are granted a new perspective of holy appreciation for the work we’ve done and the work we have left to do.

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