Friday, March 16, 2012

An Ode to Rest

Although my wife would go livid if she read this, I'm going to put myself out there and proclaim that I yearn to be more of a couch potato than I already am.  Ah...if I could take out my magic wand, and make the demands of young children and of my job go away...I could just wile the day away: on my sofa watching bad television, or on a lounge chair with an engrossing novel.  I wish that I had more time in my life to do absolutely nothing.

There's a part of me that feels incredibly guilty about sharing that.  I mean....the American society that we live in today brainwashes us into thinking that resting is bad.  We have been led to believe that the less productive we are, the less self worth we have.  We see this in the working world, where American corporate culture rewards employees that work the most hours and take the least vacation.  And we see this in the parenting world, where we (consciously or unconsciously) start padding our kids resumes as early as preschool to make sure that they are as prepared as possible to get into Harvard.  (As the parent of a five and a half year old, I'm living this right now.  Am I a bad parent because my kindergartner isn't in seven extra-curricular activities and hasn't mastered Japanese yet?)

Thankfully, our own Jewish tradition offers us an antidote to all of this pressure, and it's found in this week's double Torah portion (Parshat Vayakheil-Pekudei).  The parsha opens with a seeming contradiction: the text has Moses gathering the people together....and then after that brief introduction there's a verse or two about observing Shabbat....and then the text launches into a long section about the most important work project contained in the Torah: the building of the Tent of Meeting.  The question is: why would the Torah juxtapose the section about the building of the Tent with a passage about the observance of Shabbat?

A number of our teachers (including Rashi) have argued that the reason is to make it crystal clear to us that...even when it comes to the most important work that the Israelites were asked to do (build the Tent), we should not be distracted into thinking that that work is most important than the observance of Shabbat.  The parsha is clear: resting on Shabbat always trumps the other work that we are supposed to be doing in our lives.

The terms 'rest' and 'work' are loaded ones in the Jewish legal tradition.  I am not sitting here arguing for a rigorous Orthodox observance of Shabbat and the outmoded definitions of 'work' that come with it. 

But I do think that the spirit of the passage is incredibly relevant to the way that we live our lives today.  To put it loosely: our tradition believes that...for at least one day a week...we should all become couch potatoes!

By "doing" less, we "become" more.

It's a simple philosophical approach to life, and it is the opposite of the one that our American culture would have us believe.

Judaism believes that by taking care of ourselves...of our bodies and our resting (however we each define that)...that we can become more productive during the rest of the week. I can't tell Amy that the Torah encourages me to be a couch potato all the time.  But it definitely encourages me to be a couch potato some of the time.

There are so many different ways to rest in this day and spending quality time with friends or doing leisure activities that we never permit ourselves to do the rest of the week...on top of all of those, I really want to encourage everyone to check out the material at  We would all do well to take their advice!

What do you think about the idea of working a little less and resting a little more?  How do you unplug and give yourself the space to re-charge?  I'd love to hear from you...

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Brown

1 comment:

  1. I'm totally reading this while potatoing on my couch. I guess to really relax, I should unplug, too. Never noticed the juxtaposition of Shabbat and building the tent...point taken!