How Can We Rejoice, When the News is Terrible?

August 1, 2014

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Shabbat approaches, and yet the world is in terrible shape this week. We are commanded to rejoice on Shabbat and at “appointed times,” but how is such a thing possible? Isn’t joy an emotion?

The Torah has many subtle lessons about human psychology. True, when someone is sad, telling them, “Be happy!” or worse yet, “Smile!” is stupid and cruel. However, what the Torah commands is not emotion.

The commandment is to engage in activities that bring delight (oneg.) On Shabbat, we are commanded to eat well, to eat three meals, to light candles, to say blessings, and to rest. These are also activities that will help to reduce the stress in our bodies. Good food in reasonable quantities can be enormously restorative. Lighting candles delights the eyes. Saying blessings encourages us to notice things outside ourselves, to wake up to tastes and smells and experiences. And most of all, rest is healing to the whole person, body and spirit.

Mourners are not expected to be light-hearted. Rather, days of rejoicing give them a break from the activities of mourning (shiva, etc). When we see a kriah ribbon or a torn jacket, the rest of us know that this person needs to be treated gently, that they are not in a festive mood. Still they participate in the delight of the day, such as the Shabbat meal, because ultimately the purpose of the mourning period is to draw the mourner gently back into the life of community.

When you hear someone talk about oneg Shabbat, the delight of Shabbat, know that it doesn’t necessarily mean “delight” in the giggly, partying sense. Shabbat is not a magic Wonderland. It is a chance to rest, to heal, to gather our resources, to be with friends and family, to be restored. Sometimes that will look like a party and but usually it will be much quieter.

If traditional mitzvot are not your thing, try “rejoicing” by treating yourself with love and care. Eat well. Exercise. Let the Torah portion carry you beyond your own personal concerns.

During this difficult time let’s use the commandments of Shabbat to give ourselves respite from the hateful aspects of the news and internet. It is also a good time to think about means for alleviating the suffering of others.

Unplug from the world, plug into the best of our tradition, so that when the holy day is over, we will be refreshed and ready to do our best in the week to come.

May all those who are suffering find respite, and may the Sabbath bride bring wisdom and insight to all in leadership. Amen.


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