Friday, January 30, 2009

The Shabbaton and the Texture of Jewish Life

I subscribe to a service that sends me a "Daily Halacha" a snippet of Jewish law to chew over each morning.

Just this week, I was reminded that "One should train oneself to only sleep on one's side, and it is a serious transgression for one to sleep lying on one's back or stomach. (Mishna Brura 239:1)" Also, you might be interested to learn that "When one removes one's shoes at night one should untie and remove the left shoe first. (Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Brurah 2:5 MB8 756" and "One should not sleep in one's regular clothes, and one should not place one's clothes under the pillow {as this will cause one to forget one's Torah learning}. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 71:5."

While a number of these laws are not entirely relevant to the lives of many Jews, including myself, I find it endlessly fascinating to explore the intricacy of Jewish Law. True, some of the logic found in these halachot may be questionable, but they are a clear sign of the premise of all Judaism, that God is most certainly in the details.

Last week's Shabbaton was a reminder of that. What made it so successful - and what makes ANY well-run 24 hour Shabbaton worth about 200 hours of in-class Jewish learning - is that Judaism is LIVED rather than talked ABOUT. When Judaism is LIVED, Shabbat comes to mean much more than simply attending a two hour service with kiddush. A Shabbaton includes those services, to be sure - and we made sure that our services would be truly "out-of-the-box" experiences. When else do we begin the Morning Blessings with a vigorous game of Hebrew "Simon Sez?" When else do we enable students and parents to debate with one another what exactly they would ask of God? - some of the answers were astounding. Where else would we precede Lecha Dodi on Friday night by going around and having each student give us his or her "Wow of the Week?" - When one student said that his "wow" was in making friends with his "worst enemy," that became MY "wow of the week."

But services are not the point of Shabbat. If God is in the details, than Shabbat is too. It's in the fact that nearly 50 kids got by for an entire day without texting or turning on a computer. Shabbat is the day when nothing is virtual - everything is REAL. Shabbat was being at the ping pong table or even playing pool. The pool table was getting so popular that for a while I thought there was going to be trouble in River City. But nothing was wagered - it was simply everyone having fun together. At one point I scanned the large, comfy community room of Isabella Freedman and saw clusters of people playing "Apples to Apples" (the Jewish version, of course), Uno, or simply schmoozing, reading or learning Jewish texts with our guest scholar-in-residence. God was even in the details of the enormous icicles being admired by some of the kids, or the magnificent view of the frozen pond at sunset. God was in the details of doing a few spirited Shabbat songs before Birkat ha-Mazon, and God was certainly in the detail of hearing some 6th graders read torah for the first time.

We may or may not sleep on our sides or put shoes on in the prescribed manner, but the full texture of Jewish life can only be understood if it is seen as an entirety and not a compartment. We're not Jewish simply on Tuesdays at 4 and Fridays at 6. We're Jewish all the time. Every moment of our lives should be imbued with Jewish sensitivities and informed by our rich value system.

Every detail of our lives can be a Jewish detail, even if it seems as trivial and "unreligious" as how we tie our shoes. We're not just Jewish every waking hour. We're Jewish when we sleep too.

God is in the details.

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