A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to accompany the ninth and twelfth graders of our yeshivah, Heichal HaTorah, on the first Shabbaton of the year. The Shabbaton was held at a resort deep in the Catskill Mountains, way up the 17, well past the bungalow colonies and summer homes.
The lack of an eiruv was a bit challenging, but it was a great reminder of how careful we have to be regarding hotza’ah (carrying) on Shabbos. Many, if not most, of us live in communities where there are communal eiruvim, and we tend to forget how careful we must be without one. After every t’filah and every s’udah, everyone was reminded to vigilantly check his pockets prior to stepping outside.
It was a beautiful and inspiring Shabbos. The davenings, learning sessions, z’miros, and general atmosphere were very uplifting. An added highlight was spending Shabbos in the crisp and clear country air, away from the distractions of home. On Friday evening, as we walked from the villa where we davened to the villa where we ate, there was minimal electric light along the path. I don’t remember the last time I saw the stars so clearly. Many of the students were excitedly pointing upwards at the Big Dipper and the North Star.
Then, early Shabbos morning, the steep mountains facing us were covered in a fog that was visibly moving across the mountain. The sun was barely shining atop the peak, while the clouds still veiled the rest of the mountain. Over the next hour, the sun slowly spread across the mountain range. Deer grazed freely on the fields near the villa, in a stunningly serene and picturesque scene.
One of the rebbeim noted afterwards the irony between the uplifting weekend and coming back home. Throughout the weekend we connected with nature, and enjoyed the perfection of Hashem’s world in a manner we hardly appreciate. Everyone felt uplifted by the genuine and liberating experience. Then, as soon as we pulled onto the highway, we returned to a world where we confine ourselves to screens that block out not only nature, but also each other.
It’s often been noted that the more we connect digitally,
the more we disconnect naturally
It’s often been noted that the more we connect digitally, the more we disconnect naturally. The irony is that the more we step into the world and appreciate the vastness of G-d’s creation, the more humbled we become. But the more we stick our heads into our little devices, and bury our minds in it, the more self-centered and unemotionally involved in our surroundings we become.
Dr. David Pelcovitz relates that in a survey he conducted on the greatest impediments to spirituality, he found that number one on the list is the fact that we are always rushing, and never have moments of calmness or stillness. We never have time to reflect and think about our priorities, values, and what’s important in our lives. In our world, even when we’re alone, we’re not alone, because we are still connected to technology and surrounded by its endemic noise.
It’s impossible for us to truly connect to Hashem and to our own selves when connected to our smartphone, a friend, a song, or the Internet. Dr. Pelcovitz notes that in the Sh’ma we say, “va’avadtem m’heirah,” literally translated as, “you will quickly be abandoned.” The Baal Shem Tov interpreted those words not as a threat but as a command: “Get rid of the rush” from our lives. We need to be able to find internal serenity to enable us to refocus and turn our attention to our relationship with Hashem, and with what’s truly important and matters most.
Part of the beauty and gift of Shabbos is being able to step back from being completely immersed and overly involved in our mundane affairs. Shabbos grants us the opportunity to pull our heads out of the little boxes and cubicles – literally and figuratively – in which we bury ourselves all week, and to step into the vast and beautiful world of G-dliness. In a world of tension and hurriedness, Shabbos is an island of tranquility and true connection.
We should use this priceless gift well.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as a rebbe and the Guidance Counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.stamtorah.info.