I marked this entire morning off on my calendar to write my Shabbat message. I read the Torah portion through a few times, I studied the Chabad commentaries, the Orthodox Union’s, the Conservative and the Reform movements’ too. Nothing moved me. I looked through my old sermons on this week’s parasha—same result. I stared at my computer monitor, had more coffee, ate sunflower seeds, then granola, then a slice of cheddar cheese, then went into the garage refrigerator for a drink, watered the backyard flowers, fixed the clogged drain in the dishwasher, read the Torah portion one more time, then walked upstairs to complain to Betsy, who said what she always says: “Why do we have to go through this every Friday, and every summer before the High Holy Days, and every time you have an article due, and every time you have a chapter due, and every time you have an interview to prepare for? Either ask someone else to write these things or get back to work. You always come through.” Usually, after these minor butt kickings, I walk back downstairs and come up with something. But today…nothing.
That doesn’t mean to say it hasn’t been quite a week in our congregation and beyond; a friend’s mother dying just ten days after his father, a woman with brain cancer that swiftly returned despite two brutal surgeries and radiation, an assault, the Temple’s finance and budget meeting which laid bare the crushing cost of Covid-19 and just how difficult it is going to be for us to survive it, a mother whose son died by suicide years ago calling with a heavy heart as his yahrzeit approaches, a teenager with a feeding tube admitted to UCLA Hospital, a tsunami of emails from more people who need help and Temple staff who need guidance, a heat wave, fires, the never-ending circus in Washington, DC and Covid, Covid, Covid. Lately, every day feels like walking through mud and chest-high water—slow, heavy, plodding.
I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling wrung out. I can only imagine what it would be like to do my job with young children at home who need teaching and attention, or to be without a paycheck, or enough food, or air conditioning, or a home, or to be elderly and alone with no one to lean on. I know things could be worse. But today, despite my relative good fortune and no matter how many times I count my blessings, I am worn out and a little down. The Torah portion has some famous lines in it, like “Justice, justice you shall pursue” and “An eye for an eye...” but the well is dry. I can think of nothing to say I have not already said a hundred different ways. Now what?
In a word…Shabbat. I worked in my dad’s junk yard almost every Saturday of my childhood and teen years. There was no Shabbat, there was only more work. If you grew up the way I did, inaction was the paradigmatic sin. But deep down, I know better. I know I must admit my emptiness and fatigue; embrace and make peace with them. As the great Bob Marley so aptly put it, “Tis he who fights and runs away, live to fight another day.” Tonight and tomorrow I will surrender. I will light candles and talk with my family in their glow about the week that has passed. We will drink wine and eat warm bread. I will sleep tucked beneath the covers with the woman I have loved since the moment I laid eyes on her 36 years ago. I will wake to an armistice in the war to do and say and write and be more. I will demand NOTHING of myself. I will meet no deadlines, return no emails, type not a single word. I will pray and rest and birdwatch and rest some more. I have nothing to say because I have said too much already and have done too much too. We all have. So let us be quiet now. Let us be still.
God, grant us the strength to do nothing. Let Shabbat water our arid souls, calm our anxious hearts, and refresh our weary minds, that we may once again rise to do Your will.
Love and Shabbat Shalom,