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Toward Shabbat: Va-era

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one … Happy New Year!

I, like many of you, usually welcome in the New Year with a ritual countdown and viewing of the shiny ball dropping in the center of a crowded Times Square. However, tonight will be different. Tonight, we usher in the New Year on Shabbat, which means that my ritual countdown in front of the tv will be replaced by another ritual countdown. This is the weekly countdown—or, in full transparency, a mad dash to make sure our home is ready for Shabbat before candle lighting on the Upper West Side, which today is at the early hour of 4:20PM.

Ten, nine, eight … Is the oven off and all the Shabbat food ready? Seven, six, five … Is the hot plate on? What about the urn? Four, three, two … Are all of the lights on that we need? And finally, one … Ready or not, I strike the match, light my Shabbat candles, wave my hands three times, cover my eyes and say the blessing. Then I take three deep breaths, uncover my eyes, and, just like that, time stops.

While Shabbat is one way we keep time as a Jewish people, and so much of the lead up to Shabbat is about time, the beauty of Shabbat is that it defies time. My formal introduction to the practice of mindfulness was through a mindfulness birthing class Jeremy and I took before welcoming our daughter into the world. It was in this course that I was introduced to Nancy Bardacke’s book Mindful Birthing and her two distinct ways of engaging with time: industrial time and horticultural time. We live our day-to-day lives in industrial time, living by the clock and a calendar—seconds, to minutes, to hours, to days all flying by as we rush to be as productive as possible. We live in the fast lane flying from one thing to the next.

In contrast, horticultural time is about stepping into the rhythms of the natural world and slowing down, something most of us are not as comfortable with. Horticultural time, as Bardacke, explains, “… is a timespan that is in harmony with the biology of living things: plants and their seasons, and humans in their life cycles of birth, growth, aging, and death.” This is the time Shabbat invites us to step into each week. All of a sudden we have time to notice the changing colors of the trees that we pass by each day as we rush to our next appointment, our toddlers as they say new words for the first time, or our friends (and even ourselves) who may need a little more support.

Shabbat is a 25-hour day that beckons us to step beyond the confines of time, begs us to slow down, and reminds us that we have more agency in deciding how we spend our time than we often exercise. Shabbat departs from the general rhythm of time to teach us how to instead infuse our time with sacredness. In his chapter on Shabbat in The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg describes our modern culture and how industrial time, as Bardacke calls it, has the ability to make our existence into routine—not the kind of routine that adds structure and meaning into our lives, but rather the mundane routine that pulls us out of the present moment and into a life void of purpose or meaning. Rabbi Greenberg teaches that in the creation of Shabbat, “The Shabbat is a response to routinization by creating a temporal counterculture, an island of special existence within the stream of time.” He continues on to say that Shabbat is a paradigm shift from “homogenized neutral reality to a values saturated reality.” On Shabbat we break free from industrial time in order to awaken our souls to the world around us and to the blessings hidden in each and every moment.

Tonight, as we count down to Shabbat and then 2022, let’s ask ourselves how we can slow down and enter this new year with intention. …Ten, nine, eight … How am I going to spend my time caring for myself this year? Seven, six, five … How am I going to dedicate time to my loved ones? Four, three, two … How can I fight harder for justice in our world? One … May we be blessed to find inspiration in the horticultural time of Shabbat, and shimmers of its holiness in the days, hours, minutes, and seconds of 2022.