A Spiritual Shabbat Orientation

How to achieve that extra measure of soulfulness that marks the Sabbath.

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Instead, some of us use Shabbat as a time to reflect on ourselves, to do a heshbon nefeshi, "self-examination." Review the week for how well you did on your goals for the coming week; that is, work on yourself, not on the world. Others try to focus on the spiritual by studying the Torah portion or other Jewish texts, meditating, or singing.


Shabbat is a time for simplicity, but not asceticism. Fasting is forbidden on Shabbat. The physical world is not denied; rather, it is to be savored. We are to enjoy good food and wine. The tradition encourages couples to have sex on Friday night. Yet Shabbat discourages the acquiring of material things.

We turn inward on Shabbat. Accordingly, some people don’t answer the phone or read their mail or e-mail, just so the world intrudes less on their lives.

If we try, we can cultivate the neshamah yeteirah, that extra measure of soulfulness, which is at the heart of the Shabbat experience.

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.