Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 167

July 7, 2023 (18 Tammuz 5783)

Parsha Pinchas - It's Summer: Can We Take Time Off?

Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you well and enjoying the beginning of the summer. Please join us this Saturday morning in our beautiful sanctuary for Shabbat services, which will begin at 10:15 am, and be available on our regular Zoom prayer link. The number of people attending in-person services continues to grow, which delights both Cantor Zim and me because your presence brings a great sense of energy and Kedusha to our place of prayer!

We would also like to thank Bruce Minkoff for sponsoring this week’s Kiddush in honor of his father’s Yahrzeit. Acknowledging a Yahrzeit or celebrating a Simcha with the community brings further Kedusha to the synagogue.

At this time of year, I am often asked the following two-part question: “Rabbi, will the Shul be on break for the next couple of months? Is it okay to take time-off at this time of year?”

In typical Jewish and rabbinic fashion, I usually respond to the question with a question, or three. “Do you think that we, as a Jewish people, should take a break? Should the Shul take a break? Does Hashem ever take a break?”

The heavenly answer may surprise you!

First, let’s start on Earth, by examining a Mishnaic prescription for the perfection of humanly existence.

From Pesach through Shavuoth, we study a method for preparing to receive the Torah. This comes from the Talmud (Avot 6:6), which states that "The crown of Torah is acquired by 48 Ways." Each of these 48 Ways is a special tool to help sharpen our personal skills and get the most out of life.

This certainly sounds like a good plan, worthy of review. The text, however, suggests that to attain pleasure and accomplish our life goals, we must master and apply the tools that Hashem already has given us. If we want to be successful in business, we can use his 48 Ways. If we want to be successful in our academic or professional lives, we can also employ His 48 Ways.

While sparing you the lengthy details of the full textual prescription, allow me to share that one of these ideas, hermeneutically interpreted, is the concept of בְּמִעוּט תַּעֲנוּג, בְּמִעוּט שֵׁינָה, בְּמִעוּט שְׂחוֹק (learning to have a little leisure, enjoyment, rest, and laughter). Read in a contemporary context, this concept argues for a balancing of work obligations alongside leisure and downtime. So, here we have a clear rabbinic dispensation for “taking it easy” and enjoying a summer respite.

Furthermore, believe it or not, even Hashem takes a break! Two rabbinic texts acknowledge that even the Holy One, blessed be He, needs some relaxation, but they disagree on how long the break is. Regardless, He fits it into his regular day, never mind a summer break!

Eliyahu Rabbah, a later rabbinic Midrash probably compiled in the region of Palestine, discusses how Hashem spent His time, during the creation of the world, as well as the Daily Divine Outlook Calendar thereafter.

The Midrash explains that God tells the People of Israel that He sat for 974 generations before the world’s creation, and during that long period of time, He pondered upon, and expounded, all the words of the Torah. God then explains that “Since the day when I created the world, I sat myself down on my throne of glory doing the following:

A third of the day I read and study; a third of the day I mete out judgment to the whole world; and a third of the day I do charity. During that time dedicated to acts of kindness, I specifically feed and sustain the entire world and all that I created with my hands. Yet, I always leave a single hour of laughter שחק each day!”

If Hashem can take an hour a day to relax, isn’t that enough to teach us to slow down and smell the roses?

To further the point, the Talmud, in Avodah Zara 3b, suggests that an hour isn’t even enough and explains that Hashem actually spends up to a third of His holy day kibbitzing and having fun! So much for a 12-hour workday!

The day consists of twelve hours. During the first three [hours], the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and occupies Himself with the Torah. During the second three [hours], He sits and judges the whole world, and when He sees that the world is so guilty as to deserve destruction, He stands up from the seat of Justice and sits rather on the seat of Mercy. During the third three [hours], He sits and feeds the whole world, from the horned buffalo to the brood of vermin. Finally, during the fourth [three hours], He sits and plays with the Leviathan.

While there are many explanations as to who or what the Leviathan is, and how he / it qualifies for a Godly playdate, it is nonetheless evident that we have a powerful divine dispensation for taking it easy and enjoying a daily break, never mind a full summer vacation.

Friends, as the summer continues, and as we head into our holy Shabbat, we urge you to enjoy, relax, travel, and have fun. We also remind you that our Shul will remain open throughout the summer and is both a great place to fulfill your spiritual expressions and relax and unwind with some friends.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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