Monthly Message: October 2, 2020
A Shabbat Deficiency
When I was in middle school, I learned about the various explorers and adventurers who crossed the oceans to discover what they considered the new world. Like most students, I was shocked by the hardships and difficulties they endured and encountered as they set off beyond the horizon and made their way into uncharted territory. That was when I learned about scurvy. The terrible disease that results from a dietary deficiency of vitamin C. We all grimaced as the teacher explained that the historic sailors would bring lemons and other citrus to prevent the lethargy, gum disease, jaundice and fever that were the devastating symptoms of this deficiency. You don’t hear a lot about scurvy these days. I do not know anyone personally who has ever suffered from it, though I am sure there are cases among the population who suffers from malnourishment. You don’t hear a lot about it, because even on the high seas of old the vitamin deficiency was easily alleviated by simply adding more vitamin C. When the sailors ate lemons, their teeth did not fall out any more.
This got me thinking. There are other deficiencies with which we are all familiar. There are moral deficiencies also. Not only might we be deficient in a particular nutrient, we might also be deficient in a particular moral or ethical dimension. Certainly you have met someone who you would describe as suffering from a deficiency of generosity, a person whose moral compass does not allow for self-sacrifice and giving until it hurts. There are people who hold on to compliments like they were silver dollars, and who give to tzedakah grudgingly and insufficiently if they give at all. They withhold love and affection from those closest to them and never give the benefit of the doubt to anyone.
What interests me here is not WHY they became that way. Just as I am not interested in what caused the scurvy, but much more interested in the simple solution brought to counter it. How do you counter a vitamin deficiency? It’s simple – you take more of that vitamin. If you don’t have enough, get more. How do you counter an exercise deficiency? Exercise more.
How do you counter a generosity deficiency? I believe it is the same as with exercise or nutrients. If a person is morally deficient, they can be “cured” of this condition only by the simple palliative measure of consciously adding more of that moral dimension to their life and actions. If you are not generous, then to address that imbalance, you must simply be more generous. If you suffer from a scurvy of giving, you have to give more. More affection, more money, more time, more kindness, more assumption of innocence.
I don’t know a lot of people who are malnourished, and I don’t know a lot of people who are generosity deficient. Maybe it’s the kind of people with whom I work and socialize, but most people I encounter are well fed and inclined to generosity. But I believe there is a third kind of deficiency from which almost everyone I know suffers. I call it a Shabbat deficiency, and it is practically universal.
In our culture, obsessed as it is with work and achievement, I rarely meet anyone who has enough rest and quiet appreciation. Just the opposite is true. When given an opportunity to stay home from work and enjoy a restful and meditative holiday or Sabbath, it seems that most people feel guilty, or worse, lazy for simply taking enough time to slow down, turn off, and enjoy things as they are without having to make it better or go to the mall. We work, shop, volunteer, study, pursue, invest, prepare, and travel. When do we rest?
We all know, deep down, that if you never rest then you will become slowly less and less efficient and successful and eventually will walk the line with serious burnout and illness. We seem incapable of recognizing the deficiency itself (another symptom of this insipid disorder) and actually scorn anyone who suggests that we slow down and stop. We seem afraid that the world can not go on if we are not at work, and instead of making up for the deficiency we redouble our efforts, put our nose to the grindstone and grind, grind, grind. We initiate our children into the cult of achievement by over scheduling them and demanding that they attend every practice, recital, and school day. And while we are at it, we insist that everyone around us share in our embrace of this horrible lack, or we ridicule them as lazy, uncommitted, or selfish.
There is only one cure for this universal distress, one prescription to alleviate the Shabbat deficiency. Just as a lack of vitamin C can only be cured by more vitamin C and just as too little generosity can only be cured by more generosity, so too our Shabbat deficiency can only be cured by more Shabbat.
Fortunately, for Jews especially, but certainly not exclusively, Shabbat comes every week. And while it takes a bit of preparation to enjoy Shabbat, it is not hard to do. Cook a luxurious meal (it need not be expensive, just extra yummy and a little indulgent), eat it slowly, stay home from work and keep your kids home from their many activities. Go to synagogue or church or to the park in the afternoon. Take a nap. Not a short 10 minute nap, but a long and revitalizing one. Make love, slowly. Take a stroll, not a run. Meditate, appreciate and contemplate the best and deepest things of life. Turn off your electronics and put them in the drawer. You do not need them, and the world will be okay even when you are unplugged for a day.
Suffering from the Shabbat deficiency? Doctor’s orders – more Shabbat.