A shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.
The beheading of an American journalist by an Islamic jihadist.
Robin Williams’ suicide.
Israel’s war in Gaza.
Rampant anti-Semitism in Europe.
Is the world becoming more brutal? I could summon arguments for either side of that debate.
But I think it is indisputable we are far more attuned than any previous generation to events transpiring around the world. Gone are the days when we would watch the evening news to learn about the day’s events. No longer are there avuncular, male figures like Walter Cronkite to tell us what’s worth knowing. Nor do we rely on the morning paper, for the diminishing number who still subscribes, to provide a perspective on the news.
Each of us cultivates our own array of sources for news: be it the cable channels we watch, the radio shows we listen to, and the online sites we access. For anyone with a smart phone, the world is at our fingertips. Every time we connect to social media, we open ourselves up to the possibility that an event, a cause, a media clip will pop out and wash over us with drama.
I am not decrying the fact that we can instantaneously know about most anything happening most anywhere in the world. What I am concerned about is how we find ourselves so super saturated by bad news that we go beyond “compassion fatigue” to the point that our capacity for empathy evaporates.
There is a way for us to seek greater balance in our lives. It is a pathway that the Torah proclaims is embroidered in the very fabric of creation. It’s called Shabbat.
“For in six days the Eternal made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God ceased from work and was re-souled” (Exodus 31.17).
"Re-souled” might seem like a strange translation of Va-yi-na-fash. But the commonplace translation that “…God ceased from work and was refreshed” is too tepid.
After fashioning the world, God pulled back from laboring in order to be re-souled. We human beings are created in the image of God. We work in the world to create a good life for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We engage the world, laboring to understand it in all its endless complexity. But we must take time to step back from the world “out there” to allow our souls to reset themselves, to rebalance, to be renewed.
Try this experiment this coming Shabbat. From Friday night through Saturday evening, try putting your smart phone away for a period of time. Try not logging on to your email to catch-up on your work. Try avoiding sources of news that will depress or anger you.
On Shabbat, enjoy pleasure (the true meaning of the word, Oneg). Be with family. Eat well. Join your
congregation in prayer. Appreciate nature. Be with friends. Embrace your loving companion.
During Shabbat, set aside time for your soul’s longing for renewal. May you be blessed with a sense of calm and balance. The world will still be waiting for you after Havdalah.