Torah Musings: Elevating the Everyday


Sarah Pachter

One Friday afternoon, during winter vacation, my husband was helping with the Shabbat preparations. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity, I raced to run a quick errand.

While I was out, I got a call from my husband. “Sarah, I was bathing the girls and my phone fell out of my pocket! It went deep into the bath!”

Concerned that my husband’s phone would be ruined – let alone the long lines at Verizon, loss of phone contacts not saved, and bills for a new phone which we would have to endure – I also worried he would never want to help with the household chores again!

As soon as my husband realized the phone lay submerged in the bath water, he fished it out and dried it off in hopes of salvaging the device. He had quickly called me to test the phone out and determine if it had been affected. He could make certain calls, but many of the prompts on the screen were not responding to touch.

“Quick!” I said. “Turn the phone off and put it in a bag full of rice!”

“What? A bag of rice?”  he asked with disbelief. “Why do I need to turn it off? Can’t I just leave it on and place it in the bag?”

“Trust me…it is our best shot at saving the phone!”

Begrudgingly, he turned it off and dropped it in the bag. He felt stuck and powerless. He had many work-related emails to respond to and phone calls to make before Shabbat, and now the phone was off limits for the next 25+ hours.

Shabbat came and Shabbat went and that phone sat in our “home-made remedy” the entire time. At the conclusion of Shabbat, my husband checked on the phone. Surprisingly, it was good as new, as if nothing ever happened!

The key to the rice “trick” is keeping the phone off for as long as possible to allow the rice to absorb the moisture trapped inside. (Google this, it works!) My husband admits that if not for Shabbat, there is no way he would have turned off the phone for that long. It was a forced break, and he had no choice but to put the situation out of his mind.

You might say: Shabbat saved his phone. However, in reality, Shabbat saves us.

The writer Ahad Ha’Am famously said, “More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” The laws of inertia state that a body in motion stays in motion. As humans, we have a tendency to keep going, keep moving, keep doing, keep accomplishing. While this has always been true, in today’s generation, it is even more relevant. With the advent of technology and the iPhone particularly, it actually takes force (energy coupled with strength and determination) to slow down.

The benefits sure outweigh the challenges. The “forced break” of Shabbat adds clarity to our lives. On Shabbat, we light candles to enhance the experience and ambiance of Friday night dinner. Yet, in the Zohar, Shabbat is actually referred to as a “Big light” (Or Gadol). Shabbat gives us clarity and enables us to see what we could not see before.

When we lived in New York, I kept extra household supplies in the basement – everything from excess diapers to paper cups. Often, on Friday nights after Shabbat started, I would realize that I forgot something in the basement. I would walk downstairs to get what I needed, but it was challenging simply because the lights were not on. After spending several minutes poking around in the dark, many times I would return upstairs empty-handed.

On any given weekday, heading to the basement was a simple task – I flipped the light switch, and voila! I could see exactly where my items were stored.

Physical light gives us clarity in the material world. Shabbat is the corresponding light in the spiritual realm. Shabbat forces us to “pull away” from the mundane nature of the week. It is this distance that brings us clarity.

I remember the first time that I ever tried yoga. (It happened to be a disaster: I was five months pregnant and feeling nauseous and off-balance.) At the end of class the instructor had us lie on the floor and relax for the pose called “savasana.” After a few minutes, I grew antsy, ready to jet from the session and get on with my day. However, the instructor explained that this pose was crucial to the exercise session as a whole. We had just spent 45 minutes working hard, learning new poses. Savasana provided time for the body to slow down and process all that new information. In this way, it would be stored in the brain and easier to access the next time we tried the positions. Taking that break to cool down would make yoga easier and more accessible the next time.

In life, we see that taking a break is refreshing. It is our recharge button. It leaves us ready to accomplish again. That is the essence of vacation. In corporate America, senior management and owners actually encourage their employees to take paid time off and spread it throughout the year as it serves to enhance work productivity.

Shabbat is a weekly vacation that allows us to pull away from the hectic nature of life and be spiritually productive. It is a “Big Light” that gives us clarity. When we start working again, we are able to see our same life with a new, enhanced vision.

Breaking away creates clarity, serenity, and peace of mind.  Shabbat does not just save cell phones, it saves US.

Shabbat shalom!