Sign In Forgot Password

A Time to Reboot #715

02/25/2022 12:34:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashah Vayakhel 
“On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest…”
 (Exodus 35:3)

A Time to Reboot

Only four days after my 17th birthday, I found myself with 70 other teens from across North America watching the sunset over ancient Tiberias.

It was my first time away from home, on a tour sponsored by Histadrut — a Zionist organization. And in many ways, that trip changed my life.

This was the first time I had ventured into the world, away from my safe suburban upbringing. I would tour Israel for two weeks, then spend six weeks working on a Kibbutz.

There, I rose each morning at 4 am, to pick pears or clean the turkey pens, sweep floors or peel carrots. I even learned how to weld.

But it was that first Shabbat in Tiberias that — in many ways — shaped my future as a Jew. 

Early that evening, our tour guide, Menachem, gathered us at a small, ancient amphitheater. Looking up over the rows of students, he shared some simple words, which have remained with me for more than 50 years.

“Shabbat is about to arrive,” he said. “Some of you come from observant homes — some of you not. But here’s what I want to teach you about how we look at the Sabbath in Israel.

“It doesn’t really matter how — but make the upcoming day different from the six days we have just lived. Stop doing — take the next day just to inhale life.”

And, after he spoke, we sat in silence for the next 20 minutes, as Friday afternoon — the normal — turned into Shabbat — the sacred.

Some of us gathered later to sing Hebrew and English folk songs. Some took walks. Some attended nearby services. Some just sat and talked. 

But on that Friday night and through the following day, I understood that no matter how we decided to celebrate it — there was profound value in making one day of the week unique, special and different from all others.

I also learned that not everyone has to celebrate Shabbat, or for that matter Judaism, in the same way.

It is what the Torah speaks about in this week’s parashah, which is overwhelmingly dedicated to building a special place for the Ten Commandments to be housed, and for the people to gather and pray.

It’s a great Torah portion because it talks about the uniqueness of every human being. For each Israelite brought to the table different gifts and different skills.

But there is a footnote.

The Torah says, that before work can proceed, remember, “on six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest…” (Exodus 35:3)

So, what is that commandment doing there? Shouldn’t a day of rest come after we work our jobs for six days?

It is interesting that one of the most frequent questions rabbis are asked is, “Why do we traditionally light two candlesticks on Shabbat?”

The answer is, in part, that within the Torah, the Ten Commandments are mentioned twice — with one minor difference. When the Torah was first given on Mount Sinai, we were told to “remember the Shabbat.” Got it.

But later in the Torah, we are told to “observe the Shabbat.” Why two mentions?

It occurs to me that while the commandments, like everything we plan to pursue in life, are easy to recall, sometimes it is hard to follow through.

Often, it occurs to us to spend quality time with our families, to nurture friendships, to support our community and to donate to charities.

But in our rushed weekly routine, we often forget to follow through, especially when it comes to committing actual time to ourselves — and to our relationship with the divine.

It means spending a day refraining from creating things, and otherwise altering the world — and focus inward.

For if we are not shopping or attached to the Internet, perhaps we are taking walks with our family or throwing a ball in our backyard or at the park.

If we are doing — as Menachem suggested — something, anything different, then perhaps we are not shaking our fist at the car that cuts us off, or jostling for position at the checkout line.

Even more reason to take a day for ourselves, our families, our friends — to review the week we just had and to consider what kind of week we wish to live in the ensuing six days.

Jewish tradition holds that each of us is climbing a sulam — a ladder — each day, each week, each month, each year.

Our goal is to become better than we were last week or last year. In many ways, Shabbat is the vehicle, which enables us to exhale the physical and inhale the spiritual.

It is why, perhaps, this Torah portion begins with the idea that before we could begin the most sacred construction project of all time, we needed to make a covenant with ourselves.

“Take one day week, and make it different in whatever way you choose.”

Read. Walk. Sing. Talk. Pray. Breathe.

About a decade ago an organization called Reboot was launched to initiate a National Day of Unplugging. Reboot was made up of leaders, both secular and observant, aimed at adapting the spirit of Shabbat to modern times.

It developed a Sabbath Manifesto, since adopted by hundreds of thousands, and designated the first Shabbat of March, as the National Day of Unplugging.

It comes up next week.

It encourages humanity — for 24 hours — to “avoid technology, connect with loved ones, nurture your health, get outside, avoid commerce, light candles, drink wine, eat bread, find silence and give back.”

Those are pretty important commandments to live by. It’s good religion, which, as usual, is based on good psychology.

It’s perhaps why Reboot chose this area of the Torah to declare a National Day of Unplugging based on the commandment that — “before you begin your labors — take a dedicated day of rest.”

Life is based on more than “remembering.” It’s about committing — perhaps each of us differently — to, in some way, unplug and disconnect from the physical world.

As God inspires us to consider this week — designate a day to take care of yourself and your spirit. Commit to building a better you and a better world in the week to come.

Focus your soul on Shabbat each week in order to inspire a more meaningful life every day.

For once you have recharged your soul, then your work and God’s work on this sacred earth, can truly begin.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


Please join us on Zoom,
Friday - 7:00 pm ET
for candle lighting, followed
by live Kabbalat Shabbat services:

Click link below to view or download
the abridged Friday Shabbat siddur:


Saturday Shabbat & Musaf Service:
10:00 am ET

Sim Shalom Shabbat & Musaf Siddur:

You can also dial into these services: 
646-876-9923 (New York)
Meeting ID: 971 8824 3757

Find your local number:

Tue, March 21 2023 28 Adar 5783