I grew up watching “Saved by the Bell,” that classic afternoon sitcom featuring tanned California teens as they navigated those troublesome – and endlessly comical – teenage years. Ask any adult of my generation which episode comes to mind first, and the answer will likely be the episode in which Jessie, the perfect, straight A head of student council, feels overburdened by the pressure to get everything done. She becomes addicted to caffeine pills and has a nervous breakdown in which she professes “There’s no time, there’s never any time!” Jessie struggles with the familiar problem of having so much to do and no time to do it. I think this episode stuck with me all these years because it’s easy to relate to the out-of-control feeling that comes when there are overwhelming deadlines to meet. And we tend to punish ourselves by skipping a meal, staying home instead of going out with a friend, and just driving ourselves mad with frustration.
We often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, of wanting everything to get done, that we forget to take care of ourselves. Our parshah this week, Yitro, sends us this important reminder. We read about Moshe, the leader of the Israelite nation, struggling to do it all on his own. Just when Moshe appears to be dealing with – among other things – time management issues, God sends down the Ten Commandments. When God gives us the ten holy utterances, they serve as a blueprint for our own lives. They focus on balancing belief and spirituality with physical needs and relationships with our neighbors.
Specifically, commandment number four reminds us of the importance of taking a break. Chapter 20, verses 8-11 instruct us to have Shabbat: “Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy. Six days you should work, and do all your work; but the seventh day is the Shabbat of God your God; in it you shall not do any work…” God commands us to take a break, and ends this commandment by teaching that even God, the all-powerful creator of the world, needed a break once a week.
We are often striving for more: to do more, be more, learn more, but we forget to reflect on the cost of trying to pack our lives with wall-to-wall activity. It’s especially tough when we reach new stages in our lives to find the balance. As a first year rabbinical student, I struggled with getting all of my work done and getting good grades, along with staying on top of my personal life. I was pretty much a wreck until one of my teachers sat me down and taught me Rashi’s comment on the 6th commandment: everyone needs a day of rest. Rashi teaches us that the work we get done is the work we are meant to finish. If it isn’t done, then we weren’t meant to get there. Rashi urges us beyond our fear of losing control and asks us to recognize our imperfect mortality. Shabbat is a time not only to kindle Shabbos candles, but to rekindle the relationships, traditions, and connections that truly make us human.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Some people and communities support “commerce-free days” to encourage people to take a short break from shopping and digital life in order to recharge and refocus. Sounds a lot like Shabbat, doesn’t it?