In her book Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, Rabbi Naomi Levy writes about Henry, a member of her congregation. Henry’s internet startup was booming – he was making more money than he’d ever dreamed of. He was thirty-six, happily married with an adorable, energetic son.
But Henry was feeling empty. Something was missing in his life – he sensed that he had “forgotten something,” but didn’t know what. Yeah, he admitted to the rabbi, he was constantly “plugged into” the office – even though he was “there,” he was never completely engaged with his family.
So, the rabbi suggested that Henry and his family observe a real Sabbath day: turning off Henry’s “work mind” for a day and the whole family unplugging from technology and lighting Sabbath candles on Friday nights as a way to welcome sacred time and a festive meal at home.
After a few weeks, Henry called Rabbi Naomi. So how were the Sabbaths going?
“The first Friday night I just kept reaching for my phone, so I finally turned it off. But, Rabbi, it felt like an amputated limb. I kept listening for it and looking for it.”
“I feel like a father for the first time. I think I was just faking it before. I love playing with Jake and reading books and looking into his eyes… No more tech in bed, that’s our new thing. I go to bed holding [my wife] in my arms…
“The weird part,” Henry said, “is that taking Friday night as a Sabbath is actually affecting all the days of the week. The nagging feeling, it’s gone. I feel rich.”
“You are rich,” Rabbi Naomi said.
Some think of the Sabbath as a day of prohibitions, a day that is filled with what one is not allowed to do. This was certainly the case with the Pharisees. “Look at what they are doing, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
What Jesus is reminding the Pharisees and His disciples is that the Sabbath should be a day that frees us up, not bind us down. As Rabbi Levy writes, “the sabbath is actually a day of permission, a day when we give our souls permission to dream again, a time to slow down and concentrate again on what should be most important in our lives.”
Years ago, when I was involved in Campus Ministry at St. Bonaventure University, we had 6 Masses on the weekend. The most popular was at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday evening. Our chapel would be packed with students, so much so that we took the chairs out and had the students sit on the floor, so that more could be accommodated.
I wondered why it was that a Mass so late on a Sunday evening was so popular with young people. Then I happened upon an article by a psychologist that explained why. He said that Sunday evening was a time when College students looked for a break from the stress of studies, the partying, that often took place on weekends. It was a moment that they needed to be “in touch with their innermost self, their spiritual side.”
Jesus invites us in today’s Gospel to find that Sabbath moment in our lives. That space, that time when we can reconnect with our God by putting aside the busyness of our lives, the temporal things of our lives, in order to engage with that which is eternal.