Imagine yourself as a nervous Bat Mitzvah student exploring her assigned parashah for the first time. Your friends have told you about leprosy, stonings, bodily discharges, and endless begatting. What horrors await you in your portion, Va-et’chanan?
You begin by reading that Moses is standing on the border of the promised land knowing that G-d has chosen Joshua to lead the people while Moses must stay behind. After laying a little guilt trip on the people (“But Adonai was wrathful with me on your account” – Deut. 3:26), Moses exhorts the Israelites to follow G-d’s commandments in their new land. “Oh, no,” you think, “Here comes complex laws of kashrut, what to do if something or someone is ‘unclean,’ and how to make an acceptable sacrifice.”
Your fear subsides when you realize that rather than the nitty gritty of 603 commandments, Va-et’chanan contains a restatement of the Ten Commandments. “I can work with that,” you think to yourself. You read more verses about how important it is to follow the laws, and then you read, “Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our G-d, Adonai alone.” (Deut. 6:4.) Wait, you recognize that – the Sh’ma. Your heart starts pounding in anticipation of what is to follow: “You shall love your G-d Adonai with all your heart . . .” (Deut. 6:5-9). You realize then what a gift you have been given. Not only do you have a parashah rich in material from which to draw for your drash, but you already know how to chant nine of the verses!
Like this imaginary bat mitzvah, this parashah makes me think of a gift that I have been given. As I read Moses’ reminder to the people of the Ten Commandments, I was drawn to the commandment about the sanctity of Shabbat. (Deut. 5:12-15.) I realized that of the many gifts that WRJ has given me through the years (friendship, religious education, leadership training, enlightening experiences), the most precious to me is the gift of Shabbat.
As a member of the WRJ Board of Directors, I was told that I should not send WRJ-related emails on Shabbat. I decided that if I wasn’t sending WRJ emails on Shabbat, I didn’t need to worry about reading WRJ emails that day either. I then found that if I wasn’t dealing with WRJ emails on Shabbat, I was not checking my emails at all. I realized that the peace I experienced by a weekly cyber withdrawal would be enhanced by a further withdrawal from “work.”
The ancient rabbis defined “work” to mean things like creating fire, writing, dealing with money, and carrying. I defined “work” more simply: I don’t have to do anything that I don’t like doing. I don’t work in my law practice, do weekly cleaning chores, do my exercise routine, or do any other tasks that don’t bring me pleasure. No organizing papers, no thank you notes, no committee calls.
For many years before my WRJ Board service, I had been celebrating Shabbat by going to Temple on Friday nights and enjoying a Shabbat dinner with friends. After that, it was a day like any other day. Now, I enjoy the full gift of Shabbat every week. I encourage you to try setting Shabbat aside as a day where you don’t “have to” do anything. You may find, as I have, that this ancient concept of a day of cessation from work is an enduring gift from G-d.
Marcy Frost is currently a member of the WRJ Board and co-chair of the WRJ Resolutions Committee. She is a WRJ Midwest District past president and a past president of Temple Israel Sisterhood in Minneapolis, MN. Marcy is a Minnesota State Bar Association-certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist who has been practicing for 24 years.