Shabbat Sheva |The quieting of self
Shabbat Sheva – Standing in Silence and the quieting of self
Richard Abbott, UK
I’ve been away, Sophie surprised me with a trip to visit our University friend Spain for my 30th birthday. We spent a week slow roasting in the sunshine, playing cards, debating and eating. It was refreshing. We arrived home overtired on erev shabbat in the rain wearing shorts and t shirts and trying to find our car, which the airport had moved supposedly for our convenience. We forgot to get in food so dinner was peanut butter and jam (jelly) on matzah, as was breakfast. I had stupidly left my phone in Spain so I couldn’t text James to arrange a meet, I know white-people problems right? I’m just setting the mood.
I set off with plenty of time and found myself quickly at our usual meeting point, the BBC, I debated waiting but it seemed silly, he may have passed by already. As I started walking I saw Yoran ahead, I ran to catch him up. I asked him about his week and he about mine. I told him about debating with my atheist friend. Joan had asked many questions about Judaism and concluded that it all seemed fine if we could eliminate on part, “In the old times you probably needed G-D as an idea to enforce the law, but now you don’t need Him anymore, you can keep it just as a culture.”
I explained that whereas Joan started from the understanding that G-D was an invention I started from the understanding that He is real and I don’t understand the point of keeping the law in the absence of G-D. I highlighted the key points for Yoran and then he replied with something unexpected:
“You know Maimonides said religion is the enemy of G-D?”
“What? No I didn’t.”
“Take the words you have to say as an example, you want to say G-D is good. Only good? You’re adding definition, definition is limitation. G-D is not limited like this.”
I let this settle on my brain for a second. He went on to explain the idea beautifully and with detail that I would fail at here so I’ll tell you his conclusion.
“You really want to praise G-D? Stand before Him in silence.”
Yoram blew me away. We chatted on in detail and the chochma changed my perspective, shifted the type of Shabbat I was going to have.
We arrived at the shul, catching up with Anton and meeting Alex, Rabbi Daniels and my bearded friend at the gate. One, two, three, four, no minyan yet. The park row congregation are forever counting each other. Once all inside and ‘gut shabbosed’ and ‘shabbat shalomed’ we took to our regular seats to find that the TV screens for the CCTV were off. We couldn’t tell if anyone was waiting outside. The should have been turned on last night and left on but they were obviously overlooked. My bearded friend joked “But what are we going to do, that’s my favourite show!” “It’s all repeats,” I said.
“No it has drama,” he said “It has suspense!” Alex came into the room and my bearded friend called across to him, “Alex they’ve cancelled our show!” He pointed to the screens “That’s the only reason I come here!” Alex nodded and went out of the room.
“We can’t do anything about it on shabbos.” said the rabbi.
“We can’t,” my bearded friend winked at me, “but I know a man who can.”
I sighed with resignation, this is not what I’m here for, I thought. I want to become more observant, not less. Of course I volunteered, but it was the president that bothered me. I was quickly establishing myself as a loophole in the law. I stood and made my way to the door.
“Catch him up!” Beard spurred me on “Don’t let him touch the switch!” He meant now harm, no foul, he meant in now way to belittle my journey. He just want to protect Alex’s observance and halackically I was the most acceptable solution. In fact, no that’s not correct. The most halackhically acceptable solution was to forget about the screens and take turns to check the gate.
Regardless, before I made it out of the door the screens flickered and buzzed into life and Alex re- emerged grinning.
“You’re naughty!” said someone.
“No, I didn’t do anything; I found the switched, bowed my head to pray and it somehow flicked on.” He laughed rubbing his forehead.
“You should write the Jewish chronicle!” said my beard.
When people were being called to the bimah Yoran verified their name. He generally knew people’s Jewish first names even if it differed from their given ‘English’ name, but he had to check about their father’s name. The friendly man beside me clarified his name for Yoran when he was called up and it finished with ha Cohen, the priest. He seamed politely humble about specifying, but it was accurate and if you don’t carry these things they become lost. Here is a tradition that stretches back to Aaron, this man knows he’s a Cohen. Wonderful. My beard turned out to be a Cohen too, with that a joke the rabbi made earlier came into clarity. He had been joking about who should open the Aron Kodesh, the king or the priest, in the end the king trumped the priest so my beardy friend attended the cabinet of the word of G-D.
During the prayer when I got lost I remembered what Yoran said and just stood quietly before G-D. After the service Rabbi Daniels told us about the restrictions for Tisha B’Av tomorrow. As a day of mourning we would not be wearing leather shoes, his raised his feet to show that he had basketball shoes on at the bottom of his suit.
“It may not seem like much today, but two thousand years ago before rubber soles giving up leather shoes would have been painful in Israel, grit and rocks everywhere you walked, it would have been a constant reminder of the mourning.”
This is what restrictions do for us, they condition our experience, drive us to elevate our souls and our understanding, they inspire meditation.
I walked home with James, Rabbi Mendy and Yoran. James and I chatted at the back and I watched people’s reactions as Mendy and Yoran conversed in Hebrew at the front. After a time we arrived at a crossing and Mendy turned.
“So, have you learned any Hebrew words?”
“Some,” I said, “I tell you what, tell me what you were saying and I’ll tell you if you’re right.”
“I better not tell you,” said Yoran, “I’m sure I’d get it wrong!”
I moved forward and took up chatting to Yoran and James to Mendy.
We chatted about Sonya’s idea about a woman’s service. Yoran said it sounded like a wonderful idea. “And they won’t even need a minyan.”
“No, their service is above obligation so there’s no restriction on them, they’re not doing it because their obliged, just because they love G-D, so there’s no limit to what they can do.”
“That’s very interesting, would the same apply to Noachides?”
“Of course. This is the reason women or Noachides don’t join the minyan, as a Jewish man I’m obliged to make the service. If another man does it instead of me that’s ok because he’s obliged to as well, it doesn’t matter which one of us does it we’re all obliged as Jewish men. I can’t ask a woman to fulfil my obligation because she’s not obliged, she’s raising herself up above her obligation and I wouldn’t even have met mine.”
“So she’s not doing you any favours.”
“That’s right, she’s still free to do the whole service, but not instead of me. I’d still have to do it.” He raised the idea of each Jew being responsible for every other.
“I may never have met him, I may not know anything about him, but we are all parts of a whole. Distance is nothing, time it nothing, we are one people. Tisha B’Av teaches us to mourn one loss together. Time has past but no less the loss.”
Yoran turned off with James to their part of Clifton, Safardis together, and Mendy and I walked to ours as Ashkeanzis. I told Mendy that I’d left my mobile phone (cell phone) in Spain.
“I’ve told you before Mendy, I have no business around technology, it either runs awy or breaks, I’d be better in a 17th Century Shtetl!”
“Ah but we need not to cut ourselves of from the world.” I regarded by dear chasidic friend with surprise; long black coat tied with rope, big black rimmed hat and beard.
He explained we’re different but not cut off. The Rebbe taught that all technology is just a tool, sure it can be used for ill, but it can be used for good too. Some radio is nonsense but it can be used to teach over vast distances. Mendy was right I met him on facebook before I met him in person, I learn from Tovia Singer and Michael Skobac on youtube and I met Reuven Bryant through Netiv! “If you look at it 90% of the internet is….” he didn’t want to say the word pornography “but you don’t have to look at it. You can use it to meet with wisdom.”
Attending shul a many-splendored thing, it doesn’t stop when you leave the building.
I’m writing to you from Tish B’av. I’m hungry, I’m mourning the loss of the temple, the meeting place of HaShem and His people. I have dirty hair and when I popped out earlier I had no leather shoes on. I’m thinking about all the great people who mourned this date long before I discovered the wonder and beauty of Judaism. The Rambam, Rashi, Rabbi Akiva, The Rebbe, Yehudah the Prince to name but a few in no particular order. And remember all those beautiful G-D fearing Jews in the darkest times of Jewish history who dreamed of a time when peace would come and universal knowledge of G-D would come in the days of Moshiac.
Tisha B’Av is heartbreak, but it is too hope beyond hope. Baruch HaShem.