On Shabbat, mind and soul attain menuchah

In Jewish life, each week as sunset approaches, a mental transition is required, which does not always go smoothly. As the mundane week closes, frenetic thoughts of work still left undone or running last-minute errands may flood our mind as we subconsciously resist entering the period of rest titled Shabbat.
A common identification with the theme of Shabbat is “unplugging.” A time for quiet reflection and disengagement has become especially relevant in the current digital age, an existence centered on entertainment and constant engagement with social media. Pulling away has never been harder.
But to understand the precise nature of the day, it’s not enough to simply disengage, to relax or seek refuge from the stress of material concerns. One must also experience an additional, more active pursuit of “plugging in” to the mood and sanctity of the day.
A new type of tranquility
In the scriptural verses we traditionally recite in order to sanctify the day — making Kiddush — recounting the original weekly cycle, the seventh day signifies the end of the original creative process: “Now the heavens and the earth were completed…And God completed on the seventh day…” Here, the commentaries provide a meaningful insight: “What was the world lacking? Menuchah. When the Sabbath arrived, so did menuchah.”
The premise behind this rich snippet is that although the seventh day spelled the cessation of inventive activity (unlike the preceding six days, no physical innovations occurred), there was a new quality introduced into the universe: menuchah. This Hebrew word appears throughout our Shabbat prayers. Roughly translated, menuchah is peaceful tranquility; the opposite is turmoil or tension. While “shalom” connotes the absence of conflict, menuchah is bound up with a pleasurable peace, a fulfillment deriving directly from an appreciation of how things mesh.
And since the seventh day introduced the feeling of menuchah, there must be an essential connection between the content of Shabbat and the unique feature it introduced: During the preceding six days, as each stage of creation unfolded, distinct elements — light, darkness, water, land, plants, animals, etc. — were introduced to the world. At the same time, there was no perceptible purpose driving the grand design; each new existence appeared to be a separate and unrelated accomplishment.
Nature involves constant movement and development, the very opposite of a state of stillness and menuchah. Life means being in a constant state of flux. Change applies to the movement of time — past, present and future — as well as to all creatures, which are constantly changing according to their specific composition.
Our bodies change. So does our perspective of the world; growth and learning need not stop at adulthood. Meanwhile, the external environment is also continuously shifting. Nothing is absolutely stable. Even inanimate material — mountains, rocks, beaches and stars — are subject to continual alteration over time.
But “when Shabbos came, so did peacefulness.” Not only was there a cessation of activity, but within this withdrawal and quiet, the intention behind all previous activity could be sensed — how the multitude of movement and changes came from a single source, with one purpose that penetrated all the details of creation.
In other words, within this universe characterized by continual flux, oneness was detected, an eternal force beyond any change or limitation of time and space. And this awareness automatically injected a special tranquility (menuchah) into the entire spectrum of creation. It is this same feeling that we target every Shabbat.
Life application
This description of menuchah has its parallel within the miniature world — the human soul: A person who is unable to connect the fragments in his or her life, failing to get in touch with the overall purpose, cannot experience true peace of mind and inner tranquility.
We are immersed in the sea of change, which naturally creates inner tension. But unlike other living things, we can recognize the inevitability of change, think about the changes we experience and wonder about them. The ability to perceive the ultimate goal driving all the details — something above the many movements and changes in life — leads to a harmony within the soul, which then manifests in mental and physical calmness.
The first step is identifying one’s purpose. The more universal conception — living a productive and meaningful life — may simply entail a personal mission statement, defining one’s talents and priorities, then staying loyal to them every day by “being the best version of yourself.” The more spiritual definition entails sensitivity to an ongoing relationship with G-d, identifying what you were put on earth to accomplish —“I was only created to serve my Maker.”
The next step, after pinpointing purpose, is staying aware of the big picture each moment. Maintaining this consciousness is challenging due to constant change — the need to juggle and balance competing priorities, shifting between daily demands. For example, we simultaneously aim to take good care of ourselves, give to our spouses, be the best role models for our children, attain career goals and fulfill the soul’s pursuits. With limited time and resources, it may appear impossible to advance smoothly and successfully in any of these vital areas without sacrificing accomplishment in another.
The basis of successful time management is considering all the priorities calling for your attention, knowing what to do in any given instant, then getting things done with maximum efficiency. Here, the additional layer is a mindfulness of the grand scheme.
To have peace of mind, each task must first be mentally linked to its ultimate end.
For example, the intention while exercising is improved health and increased energy to give more, rather than the more natural immediate goal of improving your body for appearance or feeling good. Likewise, eating is done to nourish the body, not simply to please the palate. During the heat of chasing career goals, one is able to be mindful that all this toil is only a means to aid in building a Jewish home, or provide for the family, to give more to others — rather than for self-definition and to acquiring some long-awaited luxuries. And all these various components are part of one spiritual goal: to shine light into and uplift your surroundings.
Detecting how each activity contributes to a higher goal, the general purpose, allows you to be more present and to focus more energy into that act.
The opportune time
Every week, the original theme of creation re-occurs as “all the days of the week are blessed by Shabbos.” During the six weekdays, we are busy dealing with an ever-changing world. Our focus is pointing downward, conquering all the material demands. On Shabbos, we shift focus — directing our attention above. It’s an elevation where we reunite with our overarching purpose.
As the sun sets, all internal and external chaos comes to a halt and a restful spirit begins to settle in. Entering the door of our homes, glancing at those transcendent flames flickering over a clean white tablecloth and absorbing the blend of pleasant aromas, brings comfort.
Then, when a person utilizes the day to reconnect to and internalize their general purpose, they can transfer this peace of mind into the following week, so that all its details are filled with more menuchah.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Linda Seger

    Loved this article. I;’m an author, writing a book now on creativity and spirituality. Any chance I could ask you a few questions?

    Linda Seger, ThD

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