If I cant always slow down on Shabbat, am I a bad Jew

Hello, my name is Stacey … and I am an overscheduler. Often, after several consecutive days of go, go, go from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., I come home feeling completely deflated. My cat flops on his side, signaling his feverish need for a belly rub, meowing in the accusing tone I’ve come to begrudge, the one that asks, “Why didn’t you chill with me tonight?”

Sometimes I pause. On Saturdays, I like to indulge in a slowly sipped mug of coffee, lie in bed reading a novel, listen to my breath, feel my chest rise and fall, conscious of the quiet brilliance of being alive.

But the moment passes because I’m soooo busy! I have to meet a friend for brunch and go to the gym and call my mom and clean my room and be lured by the window displays in my neighborhood’s boutiques, where I will inevitably drop $20 on something I don’t need but really want. So I can’t possibly make room for this sort of meditative contemplation every week.

But why not? Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy is one of the Ten Commandments.

Apparently, I keep nine.

And technically, I should be mindful of 613 mitzvahs, or commandments, for which Jews are responsible. Of these, 248 we should do, 365 we should not — though in light of the fact that we currently don’t have a Temple in Jerusalem, hundreds cannot be observed today.

I checked out the mitzvah list for the first time last week while working on a story about a Web-based project that asks people to reinterpret these commandments. A colleague suggested I spend a week seeing how many I could keep. It sounded like a great idea.

But then I got home from work on Friday. And I did not remember the Sabbath, nor did I keep it holy. I went to my friend’s birthday party.

The Mitzvah Experiment was good in theory. In practice, however, it was much harder. Like my cat, I’m a creature of habit. Change — the kind that requires reflection, diligence and saying no to a party — can’t happen overnight.

I felt somewhat guilty, but then I thought about what I did well, instead of only what I didn’t. I spent no money on Saturday. I slept late, read a collection of short stories and finished a book about Judaism and nature (thus learning some Torah).

The experience reminded me of a workshop I recently attended that was taught by Rachel Brodie, the founding director of Jewish Milestones.

The Berkeley woman’s students frequently confide to her they feel like “such a bad Jew” for not keeping kosher or studying the Torah.

This confuses Brodie. “Who made this hierarchy?” she asked. “What’s a good Jew, and why do we buy the definition that it’s only those people who keep kosher and Shabbat? That’s one way of being a good Jew, but that’s not the only way. Judaism is more complex than that.”

According to Brodie, everyone can incorporate Jewish wisdom, laws and ritual in daily life.

“The main metaphor of Judaism is not Sinai, it is the Exodus,” she said. “We live trudging around in the sand. And we have to find out how to live in that and make it meaningful.”

During her workshop, she talked about “mikadesh hol,” which means “to make the ordinary holy.” Rav Kook came up with the concept that there are two elements of life: that which is holy, and that which is not yet holy.

“Nothing is above the possibility of the sacred,” Brodie said.

Transforming Saturday into a true Sabbath doesn’t necessarily begin by leaving work early on Friday to slave in a hot kitchen making brisket and writing a d’var Torah, she explained. Maybe it means ordering pizza and eating it with family and friends while catching up on the week.

“Incorporate Judaism into things that are already part of your rhythm,” Brodie urged. Having a more mindful Jewish life, she added, begins by reframing how we live.

This Friday I might not light Shabbat candles, but I will slow down and remind myself that “doing nothing” is sometimes doing a lot.

Stacey Palevsky lives in San Francisco. Contact her at [email protected]

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.