It will be no surprise to many of you, my loyal readers, that I’m not great at downtime. I’m a planner, and I like to be busy, whether it’s reading a book, going on a walk, or even just texting a friend. Idle time is not my favorite, so as you can imagine I’m not the best when I’m supposed to be resting to recover from an ailment or when we lose power and it’s pouring rain. This is also why I sometimes struggle with Shabbat. While I’m often working on Shabbat, and thus busy, Shabbat afternoons, especially in the summer, feel restless rather than restful. For most of the week, I’m also attached to my phone, so avoiding technology is particularly difficult when my normal response to having nothing to do is to grab my phone and mindlessly scroll social media.
This week we read Parshat Shlach Lecha and the well-known story of the spies. The parshah begins with Moshe sending 12 spies, one from each tribe, into the land of Cana’an to bring back an accounting of the land. The spies return with their report, and it’s pretty discouraging. Two spies report back with a positive message, but the negativity of the other ten reports instills so much fear into the nation that they decide they don’t want to make the journey into the promised land after all. This infuriates God, who then decrees that anyone who went out from Egypt at age 20 or older will not be allowed to enter the land of Cana’an. This generation will purposefully die out so that a new generation, unfettered by the destructive mindset of their predecessors, can start anew. As the Torah details the creation of a nation that is fierce and fit, God notices that they are also struggling with preserving the sacred downtime that is Shabbat.
This idea of rest is so serious that we hear the story of a wood gatherer who gathers wood on Shabbat. God deals a harsh punishment; the Torah declares the consequence for this infraction was death. While such a punishment may sound disproportionately severe to our ears, it certainly furthers the notion that making time to stop, rest, and rejuvenate is essential to living. These days no one will stone you for not taking care of yourself and resting on Shabbat as the Torah might suggest. However, we’re no less responsible for helping each other push the pause button and for our own health.
Deep down, I know that breaks are essential, rest is restorative, and that putting down our devices can be lifesaving. Or at the very least, Shabbat can be your weekly reminder to be present not only for your family, but also for yourself.