In the Jewish tradition, the 24-hour period from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday is known as Shabbat, or the Sabbath—the holiest part of the week. During that time, observant Jews do not use electricity, take photographs, drive a car or do many other things, as mandated in the Torah. On Friday nights, families eat a special dinner together, light candles, say prayers and eat challah bread to celebrate this time of rest and reflection.
But you don't need to be Jewish—or religious at all—to find the benefit of incorporating a “day of rest” into your own busy life, or to be inspired by some of these ancient traditions.
Taking a time-out from technology
Rebecca Reice, a rabbi-educator at the Reform Jewish Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, Kansas, was worried that taking a day off from answering work emails and doing housework can seem impossible and even counterproductive in our hyper-busy world. Reice wanted her congregation to try it, but wasn’t sure they were ready to give up their modern conveniences, so she challenged herself to try unplugging first.
"Years ago, I came to the realization that I am a time-obsessed person,” she says. “I’m always checking my watch or phone, checking my calendar to stay on track and pack everything into overfilled days." By taking off her watch on Friday evenings and living in the moment instead of worrying about what she needed to do next, Rebecca found deeper connections with her friends and community. Her congregants then picked up the challenge themselves.
Shabbat, minus the religion part
Rebecca isn’t the only one reconfiguring what the idea of Shabbat means outside of religious practice. Marilyn Paul, author of the self-help/personal-organizing book It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys, is currently working on a book about how Jews and non-Jews alike can incorporate rest, relaxation and renewal into their weekly routines.
According to Paul, many people find that, as much as they would like to embrace the concept of Shabbat, they find it incompatible with modern working life. For some, it takes something serious, such as a major illness or injury, to force them to rethink their true priorities and how they spend their time.
Paul suggests people stop looking at Shabbat as a list of things you can’t do and see Shabbat as a list of things you can, such as read a book, take a nap and spend meaningful time with your family.
“Think through what is actually restful and nourishing and renewing for you,” she says. “One question is, what really satisfies you? Ask what would really feed your soul and feel great. Renewing and de-stressing are a practice.”
Take time to rest and reconnect
Her sentiment is echoed by Rabbi Jessica Minnen, the director of content and training for StartUp Shabbat, a New York-based initiative that encourages people to think about Shabbat as an opportunity for increased mindfulness. “It is a day to break from the work you usually do, but it is also a day to do things you don't usually get to,” she points out. “Read a novel. Bake a cake. Play outside. Sleep!”
Says Jessica, “Think of Shabbat as a day of recharging. For me, that might mean yoga class or group meditation. For you, that might mean Friday night dinner with friends or a concert in the park with your family.”
This weekly downtime can also be a time to think about the less fortunate, realize how grateful you are for the people around you, and think of ways to give back. According to Minnen, when you have a day of mindfulness, “Time becomes more valuable, you feel more present in the space you occupy, your spiritual life develops and your relationships grow.”
Lilit Marcus is a New York City-based writer and tea addict. Her first book, Save the Assistants: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace, was published by Hyperion. You can also look for her work in the Wall Street Journal, Teen Vogue, and Elle.com. Her sister says she dresses like a librarian. @lilitmarcus