I have always believed that our day and yeshiva high schools are too focused on accumulating knowledge – what I label as “cerebral acquisition” – instead of dealing with emotions – one’s heart, feelings and sensitivities. We pile on our children tons of work consisting of memorization and we lose very often what makes us human; The emotions that we have, the friendships that we make, the hugs and support that we so need to survive as human beings.
There is a time when our children need to “unwind,” to take a rest from the vicissitudes of life and once again focus on what’s really important – our family and our loved ones.
This is perhaps one of the reasons we were given the gift of Shabbat. It is a pause 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. We look around at our families and loved ones and we realize that all that we think is important, all that we strive for during the workweek, is really unimportant. The vital elements of our lives are sitting right before us at our Shabbat table.
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 God is in control of the universe.
Almighty God 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.
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 Judaism is centered around the family. Synagogues and day schools are both important but they play a secondary role compared 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, New Jersey. 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.