Posted By The Stash

“A change is as good as a rest” goes the saying. This aphorism really resonates with the Simcoe Day long weekend at the height of summer when so many people find different ways of taking a break. Some people vacation in destinations near and far seeking novel experiences. For others, the cottage beckons. Others enjoy hopping into the car for a series of day trips or overnight stops at rustic local bread and breakfasts. Still others may find contentment closer to home—curling up with a book in their backyard.

But this week’s parasha, often read as part of a double portion and invariably read in the middle of summer, offers a stark rejoinder to equating change and rest. The beginning of the parasha is a lengthy list of Bnai Yisrael’s route map through their 40 year desert journey, read in the tune of the “travelling song” to accentuate the length of the journey. The narrative of the journey is interrupted by some mentions of key events that took place on the route. When reading the list, one cannot help but recall that the reason for this over-lengthy journey came from the nation’s refusal to believe that the land of Canaan was conquerable with the assistance of G-d. Only through change—the birth of a new generation and the death of all those born into Egyptian slavery—could the journey conclude with a victorious entry into the Promised Land. Thus the Torah teaches that geographical movement produces spiritual uplift.

In truth, there is a similar motif can be found in Abram’s journey to Canaan, in Moses’ journey through the Midianite desert to the Mountain of G-d at Chorev, and in Elijah’s similar pilgrimage when he felt defeated by the idol worshipping King Ahab. In some cases, the uplift is slow in coming. Jacob becomes Israel on his return to Canaan, but the renamed patriarch does not hurry to see his aged father. Yet, the fact of his renaming on this journey attests to a higher purpose—“you shall be called Yisrael, for you have struggled with G-d….”.

From this we see that the Torah does not associate change and rest. On the contrary, change is associated with movement both physical and spiritual. That is the approach of Maimonides who noted that Moses did not merely climb Sinai physically, but his soul ascended spiritually to directly receive inspiration from G-d. But we know that people cannot always be on the move and ever changing. How can they pause for refreshment? For us, the model of rest is found in the Divine cessation from creative work. “On the seventh day, G-d ceased from work”. Indeed, the verb “va’yishbot” –and [G-d] ceased—is the root of Shabbat. And that is the key point that we can draw from this mid-summer parasha: we rest by pausing and reflecting, not by doing something different. For Jews, whether we are in Toronto, Tucson, or Trieste, Shabbat is still Shabbat. And in a world that increasingly believes that we have to be on the move all the time, that is a refreshing message. Just today, CNN had an article on recognizing the sign of a phone addiction—the average person checks their phone 37 times per day. What’s the cure? “Try to put the phone away for 10 minutes, create a “no phone” area.” Good advice, but we Jews already have Shabbat—a cure for these addictions—a whole day of “no phoning”, of talking “face to face” with people the way it was done before Facebook. So, “make shabbat”: relax, daaven, eat, grab a drink you haven’t tried yet, talk to friends and make time for family, learn a bit, grab a Jewish book (fiction or non-fiction) and just “relax” for the 25 special hours of Shabbat. You’ll be glad you did physically and spiritually. Oh yes, you can still go away for vacation too!

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