Hi, my name is Ethan, and I’m a graduate student at MIT and a workaholic. I’m writing this at 3 a.m. on a Sunday, largely because I was unable to force myself to take a break from my work since about 15 hours ago. That is a blessing and a curse, clearly, because, despite the fact that I love my work, it’s hard to argue that rest, structured or unstructured, wouldn’t do me some good once in a while. I can hear the voice of my mother now, reminding me of the many health benefits of consistent and sound sleep, or at the very least intentional de-stress.
The voice of my mother came back to me in the voice of our tradition earlier this semester when I participated in a Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) class about Shabbat. Our texts and discussions reminded me again of the importance of taking time to rest.
I am a secular Jew of Reconstructionist background. I’m inclined to seek forms of Jewish practice and enculturation that do not necessarily carry the commitments of traditional Jewish observance and theology. The Sabbath is a practice that has some roots in practical necessity and mindful living, in addition to its particular theological connotations (which are interesting, nonetheless), and therefore a prime candidate to conceptually explore for the secular Jew.
But if I’m going to engage in the practices associated with Shabbat, I’d like to be mindful about what precisely I’m engaging in. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about Jewish philosophy, to say the least, and so an experience like JLF, covering multiple Jewish perspectives on the same topic, has been valuable to me, and I view it as an opportunity to diversify my own perspectives. As I mentioned at the start, I have a bit of a working problem. Consequently, unstructured, essentially meaning unscheduled, rest time simply doesn’t cut it. One passage by Mordechai Kaplan struck me (and several of the others) as particularly insightful: There’s a general observation that humans tend to have a bit of inertia. They tend to stick to one mindset, one pace and one mode of living unless they, either by their own volition or the prompting of another, interrupt that process. The Sabbath, then, can serve as such an interruption:
“An artist cannot be continually wielding his brush. He must stop at times in his painting to freshen his vision of the object, the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas. Living is also an art.”
(The man seems to have a bit of Bob Ross in him, in the sense that both stress the need to step back and look at the big picture, whether metaphorically in Kaplan’s case or literally in Ross’s.)
Let me now turn to another aspect of JLF: Over the last year, for the obvious reasons and then some, it’s been especially difficult to feel connected to any sort of MIT-centered community. JLF serves, at least for me, as a nice weekly reprieve from academia to learn about something different and to socialize outside of my usual academic circles. Thank you to MIT Hillel, CJP and all those who provided this opportunity to enrich my graduate school experience.
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