Shabbat and Environmental Awareness

Rejuvenating Ourselves and Our Planet

Print this page Print this page

In modern society, we are running, speaking, and thinking at an exceptional rate, and oftentimes we continue all week long without slowing down. Constantly doing, always mobile accessible, habitually multi-tasking.

If being too busy is a malady of modern man, slowing down on Shabbat may be a key remedy. The Torah teaches, "These are the things that the Divine commanded to make. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to G-d…"  Achieving sanctity and complete rest is the stated goal of Shabbat. Yet how can this happen? 

The Prophet Isaiah says, “If…you call the Sabbath a delight (oneg), …and you honor it by not doing your habituated ways, by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words, then, you shall delight with G-d…” According to the Talmud, 'not doing your habituated ways' means “that your walking on the Sabbath shall not be like your walking on weekdays.” The intentional weekly practice of walking slowly can help a person to focus their attention on how he or she feels while walking. Based on Isaiah’s continuation, “by not…speaking words,” the rabbis forbid speaking on Shabbat about work activities one might do in the future. Furthermore, on Shabbat we are encouraged to free our mind from its incessant preoccupation with thinking about doing. Encouraging this mindset, the great commentator Rashi (1040-1105 C.E., France) teaches "When the Sabbath arrives, it shall seem to you as if all your work is done, that you shall not think about work."

nature holiness

Every week, Shabbat can remind us that we are first and foremost human beings, not just human doers. Rabbi Daniel Kohn, who teaches at the Sulaam Yaakov rabbinical program in Jerusalem, states that "Our natural soul state is one of rest. By our spiritual nature, we are one with God, who is total Presence and Being. Shabbat is the place of constant access to the quiet, to the perfect rest in the bosom of G-d." In addition to conscious movement, speech, and thought, Rabbi Kohn encourages the spiritual practice of meditation and quieting on Shabbat as a means of reaching true oneg.

Imagine such a reality: one day a week totally free of mundane work thoughts. How can one achieve such a state of being?

Remedy for a Fast-Paced World

Today we live in a society which is constantly doing without sufficient regard to being, and at the same time, transforming the natural world without taking time to reflect on the long-term consequences. A New York Times Magazine article commented about lifestyles in the United States, “A nation of remarkably productive, often well-paid workers… are becoming increasingly reluctant to pause from their labors and refresh their souls.” 

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril founded and directs Jewish Eco Seminars, which engages and educates the Jewish community with Jewish environmental wisdom. He has worked with Canfei Nesharim for the past six years in developing educational resources relating to Judaism and the environment.