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The Shabbat Project: Turning negatives into positives

By ReligionOctober, 2014January 29th, 20244 min read

My son’s phone stopped working the other day. He had a busy day with lots to do and some important calls to return. Not surprisingly, he fell into something of a panic. We have become so dependent on our mobile devices that when they don’t work, our lives feel severely disrupted. Fortunately, he was able to get the phone fixed and get everything done. But it was pause for reflection about how addicted we are to technology, and how we cope when we don’t have our precious smartphones (and yes, we can cope).

This all happened on Erev Yom Kippur, and my mind jumped from thinking about going without a phone to thinking about how we approach going without food and drink for a long 25 hours.

While our first instinct may be to worry about hunger or caffeine withdrawal symptoms, we can instead use a day without food to reflect on food (and consumption in general) in our lives. Do we eat to live or do we live to eat? Is there more to our lives than food and material consumption?

Of all the Jewish Holidays, Yom Kippur is the one that focuses the most on negatives: don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t do this and don’t do that. However, Yom Kippur is not about the “don’ts.” Rather, by taking away some of the material things that take up so much space in our regular lives, we create the space needed to consider our spirituality and our relationship with God.

This week, the world will unite in a very special project – The Shabbos Project – which is all about keeping one halachic Shabbat together. As a committee member of the Melbourne project, I considered how to ‘market’ the idea of keeping Shabbat to less affiliated Jews. My first thought was that Shabbat is all about the “don’ts”: no phone, no driving, no internet, no television. This is a hard sell — these mod cons are so much a part of our lives, even the thought of giving them up for an entire day can have some people trembling with fear of the withdrawal symptoms.

But after the phone incident and Yom Kippur, I have a different perspective on all of these “don’ts.” Rather than a negative, they are a positive as they enable us to briefly step back from the pace of life. They are necessary to create the space we desperately need in our lives to spend time with our families and friends, to engage with our Judaism and with spirituality, and to regain our perspective on what is important in life.

This Shabbat, instead of worrying about how you will cope without a mobile phone, you will likely discover that leaving the mobile phone switched off for a day is liberating. And in turn, you may realize that you are the master and the phone (and all the other technology) is there to serve you — not the other way around. I took me a while to realize that the most important button on a mobile phone is the red “no” button.

It’s so easy to be caught up in the rat race as 24/7 connectedness means one day blends into another, and another, and another, and after a while we look back and wonder where all the time went. The “don’ts” of Shabbat are the pause button that rescues us from the rat race, and allow us to step back in on Saturday night feeling refreshed and reinvigorated. While the restrictions of Shabbat may look like negatives, they are in fact a fantastic positive.

This is also posted at [Times of Israel].

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