Friday, September 19, 2014

Necessary leisure

Daniel Ross Goodman, "a writer, lawyer, and rabbinical student" notes the passing of S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, perhaps the only fast food chain that observes a "Sabbath" — albeit on Sunday. From Goodman's essay about the value of a Sabbath:
The Greeks said that leisure was necessary for the soul. Similarly, Judaism and Christianity, by imploring their adherents to observe a Sabbath once a week and to observe a Sabbatical year once every seven years, mandated leisure as a religious precept. Mussar (Jewish ethical-devotional literature) advocated freedom of the mind as an ethical and religious imperative by equating mental drudgery with the Jewish slavery in Egypt and by associating mental freedom with the Exodus from Egypt.

This precept of “necessary leisure” (theologian Rabbi Irving Greenberg’s term) is embedded in the institution of the Sabbath and in the biblical concept of the sabbatical:
Shabbat (the Sabbath) [provides] the necessary leisure to be one’s self and to enter into deeper relationships.

Rest is more than leisure from work, it is a state of inner discovery, tranquility, and unfolding.... The Sabbath commandment is not just to stop working, it is actively to achieve menuchah (rest) through self-expression, transformation, and renewal. On this day humans are freed to explore themselves and their relationships until they attain the fullness of being.

[The Shabbat’s] focus remains the enrichment of personal life. In passing over from weekday to Shabbat, the individual enters a different world. The burdens of the world roll off one’s back. In the phrase of the zemirah (Sabbath table song): “Anxiety and sighing flee.” In the absence of business and work pressure, parents suddenly can listen better to children. In the absence of school and extra-curricular pressures, children can hear their parents. Being is itself transformed. The state of inner well-being expands. As the Sabbath eve service text states: “The Lord...blesses the seventh day and [thereby] bestows holy serenity on a people satiated with delight.” The ability to reflect is set free. Creative thoughts long forgotten come back to mind. One’s patience with life increases. The individual’s capacity to cope is renewed.
A society in which the ethic of necessary leisure—or, in the terminology of the siddur [prayer-book], “holy serenity”—is not respected is a society that degrades the human being and, consequently, depreciates the image of God. This is why the Torah and the ba’alei mussar [authors of ethical-devotional literature (lit., “masters of ethics”)] fiercely advocate the absolute, inviolable necessity for periods of leisure—Sabbath days and Sabbatical years—during which we can be self-reflective and thereby rejuvenate our inner image of God. .... [more]