The term for Shabbat as an “Oasis in Time” belongs to Abraham J. Hershel. While describing the Shabbat and its beauty he suggested that the Shabbat is an oasis in time. For a brief moment, as we usher in the Shabbat, time, as we know it, stands still. All our unpaid bills, office hassles, and professional aggravations are put on hold as we dedicate one day to God.
For six days prior, we pretend to believe that we are in control of our lives and our destiny. We think we have the power to make choices and to effect change in this world – that we are in control of our own destiny. Shabbat comes along and sobers us up. It literally becomes a reality check. No, we are not in control. In reality, we can only affect a very small portion of our lives.
When I describe the central theme of Shabbat to my students, I always focus on that point: that Shabbat is a time when the Jewish People recognize their mortality and in essence declare that G-d is in control of the universe.
Almighty G-d is truly the one who shapes our destiny and the destiny of the entire world. When Shabbat enters, we acknowledge this with modesty and introspection. We recognize that we are only a speck in this great world and only a small impression in the unfolding of time.
For me Shabbat represents one of the foundations of Judaism. There are so many laws and concepts in Judaism that baffle me and that I have little understanding of. But Shabbat is the one practice in Judaism that resonates so clearly of its authenticity and truthfulness.
As an educator I have always believed that teachers should realize this as well. Shabbat is not a time to burden students with extra homework assignments. Instead, it is a time for students to focus on their families and the interrelationships of a successful family. When we really get down to it, the basis of all of Judaism is centered around the family. Synagogues and day schools are both important but they take a secondary role to the importance of one’s family. The essence of Shabbat is the uniting of one’s family; completing homework assignments only serves to take away from the spirit of the day.
In the secular world this idea became a reality in the small town of Ridgewood, N.J. Parents were so concerned and involved with the success of their children that they loaded them down with every conceivable extracurricular activity. They became “hyper” parents, transporting their children to and from sports, music and dance activities, losing site that they were destroying the very essence and fiber of what a family should be. They finally recognized that they were working against themselves. “Let’s plan a night where nothing is planned,” said Marcia Marra the original organizer of this evening. The idea was “designed to let families do whatever they wanted.” This would be a time when families would focus solely on improving the dynamics of their family. No baseball games, no ballet lessons, no band or sports activities – just a time to relate to what is really important in life: loved ones and family.
The experiment was successful. People started looking forward to doing it again next year. It afforded families a chance to step back and appreciate the true blessings that they had in their transient existence. It made them realize that all those extracurricular activities that they provided their children, though important, pales to the importance of the time spent with family.
The Jewish people were given this gift every week. Those Jews who take advantage of this great treasure savor every minute of it. They focus on the enduring aspects of their lives: our Torah, our families, and our children. For the Jewish people, the experiment in Ridgewood was not something new.
For us it is called the Shabbat, an oasis in time.