Honey From the Rock: Resilient Shabbat – Sustaining the Ability to Be

Thinking back to my experience at the ICLEI[1] World Congress in Capetown, South Africa in 2006, one thing in particular stands out in my mind’s eye. I was sitting in an explanatory session of the different topical themes that the congress was offering. A presenter rose to the podium and asked us to close our eyes, take in a deep breath, exhale, and do so again. In closing she informed us that we just had practiced resilience[2].

I learned an important lesson from that 15 second meditation…which is that resilience, the ability to restore, to heal, to make “Tikkun”[3], is in essence “being” in and of itself, expressed through breathing in time. Not surprisingly, the Jewish calendar provides us with wonderful time tools that can be understood as a kind of best-practices in resilience, i.e., breaths in time.

For example, the time measure of a week being seven days is the only one not based on any measurable natural phenomenon such as the cycle of the moon’s phases (a month) or the rising and setting of the sun (a “day”), it is simply the counting of seven days. The idea of a week as being seven days is a fundamental teaching of the Torah. In the Torah’s presentation, we are to perform our melacha[4] for six days and then rest on the seventh.[5] Thus “rest” is an integral part of the overall experience of a seven day week. This "rest", as we shall see, is the basis of resilience.

Let’s go a bit deeper. Melacha can be understood as the activities we engage in that are our creative re-creation of the world according to our level of awareness of how things fit together (or don’t). Thus to "rest" on Shabbat is that which is created through the refraining of such creative activity in the material world, in turn this allows for a potentially increased focus on inward “restful” creativity. This “rest” can consciously be enhanced each Shabbat through the experience of Oneg (as in Oneg Shabbat). Oneg is commonly translated as “pleasure”, but like many English translations of Hebrew words/concepts, pleasure just doesn’t quite capture the essence of what Oneg is.

The extent to which one can experience Oneg, is the extent to which one understands their actions/thoughts/experiences operating within a framework, guided by a vision, that in turn engenders connectivity to the very moment to moment moments of daily life.[6]

Resultantly, the Oneg that we have achieved, should we choose to utilize it, can guide us through the six days of “work”. In other words, the level of Oneg we have experienced can inform the moments of the coming week leading to hopefully increased levels of Oneg during the week as it relates to the preceding and forthcoming Shabbat and the cycle goes on and on.[7]

Thus, in sustainability terms, Shabbat is a resilience “tool” for the soul.[8]

Coming full circle, what the presenter at the ICLEI World Congress was trying to teach perhaps was that the highest level of resilience, of sustainability, is “being”. Only by being, in the fullest sense of what that means (personalized in time down to the very experience of my breathing), can we sustain our ability to be.

[1]ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, http://www.iclei.org/

[2]Social resilience (there is also ecological resilience) “is the ability of human communities to withstand and recover from stresses, such as environmental change or social, economic or political upheaval. http://www.sou.gov.se/mvb/pdf/206497_Resilienc.pdf

[3]Literally “fixing” in Hebrew.

[4]Melacha, [m-lah-cha], commonly translated as “work”.

[5]For six days you may perform melachah, but the seventh day is a complete Sabbath, holy to the L-RD … it is an eternal sign that in six days, the L-RD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. -Exodus 31:15-17

[6]Interestingly, the main mechanisms of Oneg Shabbat are food and study (corresponding to body and soul) [traditionally specal dishes/delicacies which were prepared before the onset of Shabbat and Torah study]. This opens up further discussions on food system sustainability and the Shabbat table, for a later time.

[8]The seven day week, one should remember, is nested within an overall matrix of time, that of the monthly and yearly cycles (with their corresponding festivals and events [both celebratory and mourning]). This larger matrix, with its time nodes [image forthcoming] connecting the day, week, month, year, years, is a tool for the “experiencer of time” to use in order conceptualize one’s growth towards ever larger and more inclusive levels of responsibility and awareness through the experience of those time nodes. Not to mention all of the various levels of expression at the communal, national, world, even universe scales of relationship.

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