Between the Lines—Eikev

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

דברים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ג

א הלכה אדם מישראל שיש לו מנורה שעשויה פרקים פרקים מהו לטלטלה בשבת, כך שנו חכמים המרכיב קני מנורה בשבת חייב חטאת ומשום מה מחייב א"ר אבהו בשם רבי יוחנן המרכיב את המנורה בשבת כאדם שבונה בשבת ומי שהוא בונה בשבת חייב.

Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:1

Halakhah: Is it permissible for a Jew who possesses a candelabrum fitted together from separate parts to move it about on the Sabbath? The Sages have learned: One who puts together the parts of a candelabrum on the Sabbath renders himself liable for a sin-offering. And under what counts is he liable? Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: He who puts together a candelabrum is like a person who builds on the Sabbath, and one who builds on the Sabbath is liable [for a sin-offering].

"Sabbath rest" has been getting a lot of press these days, thanks largely to efforts by a group that named itself Reboot in order to, well, "reboot" time-honored Jewish traditions. In March, it organized a widely publicized National Day of Unplugging, in which participants logged off all electronic devices from one Friday sunset to Saturday night, and it has published a Sabbath Manifesto intended "to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world." (http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/unplug)

The need for Shabbat has, arguably, never been greater. We live in an increasingly hectic world, and the idea of taking one day out of seven to slow down gets right to the core of Jewish living. As Judith Shulevitz, author of the recent book The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time (and daughter of two JTS graduates, one of whom now serves on our William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education Advisory Board), wrote recently in the Washington Post: "We could learn from the Sabbath how to protect our time against the two grand addictions of the age—work and the Internet. What we'd learn is the immense usefulness, to society, of a structured period of nonproductivity, as well as the need to enforce that pause."

The midrash halakhah cited above seems, at first glance, to have little to say to us. Antiques dealers and Hanukkah aside, we do not regularly deal with candelabra, and the theology of being "liable for a sin-offering" needs translating into modern terms to mean much. But it is the foundation for what modern-day shapers of Jewish culture (like the Reboot team and Shulevitz) find themselves, 2,000 years later, advocating: one day in seven in which we cease building and doing, and allow ourselves to just relax and unplug.