16 January 2009

Thank God for Sleeping on Shabbas

After having, this morning, re-read Rabbi Saul Berman’s classic article on the halakhic issue of playing sports on shabbas, I wanted to turn to some of his non-halakhic material in the piece (he did a great job with the halakhic material). He divides his article (and rightly so) into two separate sections: I) The Halakhic Issues and II) The Public Policy Question. In section I, which spans the bulk of the article (pp. 1 – 12), he discusses the halakhic aspects of playing sports on shabbas and yom tov. In the other section, however, he discusses, more broadly the issue of time usage on shabbas and yom tov.
Now, I’m not interested in touching upon the topic of sports, but Rabbi Berman locates this issue within the larger issue of activities on shabbas (and yom tov). He mainly takes aim at my primary activity on shabbas – the main day of rest: sleeping. I wake up early in the week and get an insufficient amount of sleep, which accumulates and adds up, with me usually getting no less than 10-12 hours of sleep on any given shabbas. My utilization of the day of rest for getting [my mind, body, and spirit] refreshed with sleep is pivotal, as it allows me to reset from the preceding week. Thus, I feel I must defend sleeping on shabbas when I read that he wrote that “ball playing on shabbat and yom tov is a vacuous, pointless activity, almost as useless as sleeping hours on end” (13)! Wow, strong words. To say that “sleeping hours on end” is even more useless than playing ball is a surprising statement, especially when considering the very point of resting and refreshing with sleep on shabbas.
Not only this, but he also attacks napping: “The unfortunately common practice of taking long naps on shabbat is just one further indication that many people are baffled by the question of how to use time in a spiritually uplifting fashion” (1)! Now, I would neither say that this “common practice” (well, at least during the summertime – now, in the wintertime, I, unfortunately, uncommonly nap, owing to the limited amount of afternoon shabbas time) is “unfortunate”, nor would I say that it is an “indication that many people are baffled by the question of how to use time in a spiritually uplifting fashion”. As to the former, this is because it is a blessing to sleep and to be able to refresh oneself.
Regarding the latter, Rabbi Berman makes the assumption that shabbas is to be used in “a spiritually uplifting fashion”. This point is actually the crux of his drive, as he states, that “it seems to me that we need to be looking to expand the base of activities through which meaningful spiritual experiences can be had. If we want the time of shabbat to so infuse the life of the Jew with meaning that the rest of the days of the week could be lived in its shadow, then we need to discover additional frameworks through which such meaningful transmissions can take place” (12). What Rabbi Berman is saying here is that he sees shabbas as offering the Jew an opportunity as a spiritual springboard.
Moreover, it could be that the more specific crux of this disagreement lays in the way in which we understand וינפש, as in "For in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested"(Ex. 31.17). He sees that the way we need to be “utilizing the holy time of shabbat in a manner consistent with God’s purposes for that day” (1) is to be using it for spiritual purposes. See especially saying that “We seem to have evolved only three activities through which we positively and effectively enhance the holiness of the day. First, “davening” time; second, meal time; and third, learning time. Whatever time cannot be consumed in one of these three activities remains available for sleep” (12). Two main things here emerge: the goal of the day, in Rabbi Berman’s eyes, is to “positively and effectively enhance the holiness of the day” and that sleep is distinctly left out of this purpose. Thus, Rabbi Berman understands נפש here as being spiritual.
Whereas, I understand נפש as being the physical body – so וינפש is about refreshing the physical self/body.
Anyways, shabbas is going to be here soon…and I am looking very much forward to some much-needed sleep!

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