Sabbath rest is needed to heal the world in these trying times

When Rabbi David A. Ingber arrived at Chautauqua from Colorado a week ago, he was late for a Shabbat meal with friends. He changed, got into the “rabbi mobile” and practiced his “rabbinic wave” and promptly got lost.

Ingber preached at the 9:15 a.m. Friday, Aug. 5 worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon theme was “Sabbath” and the reading was “The Sabbath” from the book The Sabbath, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. 

Heschel wrote, “The seventh day … is a truce in all conflicts, personal and social; peace between humans, humans and nature, peace within humans. To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of … independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with (other people) and the forces of nature — is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for (humanity’s) progress than the Sabbath?”

Looking back on his first day at Chautauqua, Ingber said that “Shabbat could not have come sooner. We blessed the wine, the challah, each other and our families. After dinner, our host asked us to share a memory of the last week. It was my first experience of Chautauqua, and it prefigured my week here.”

Ingber then unveiled his new branding for Chautauqua: Shabbatauqua. 

“My week here has been a Shabbatesque time,” he said.

Shabbat is not a place, but a cathedral, a palace in time, according to Heschel.

“It is a glorification of time,” Ingber said. 

Each of the Abrahamic faiths have a designated time for worship: Muslims on Friday, Jews on Friday night and Saturday, and Christians on Sunday.

Sabbath must be bigger than any religion, he said. “Shabbat, Sabbath, is an orientation we all need.”

It has been said that Jews have not kept shabbat, but shabbat has kept the Jews. 

Ingber quoted Thomas Merton:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

The natural flow of life has been lost in the modern world, Ingber said. 

“We have lost the rhythm of work and then rest,” he said. “We have lost the pause between the inhale and the exhale.”

Everywhere Ingber goes in the world, people say how busy they are. 

“We are more accessible, but less available,” he said. “In our desire to succeed, we don’t rest and we lose our way. We get buzzes and texts and emails that seem urgent but are not really urgent.” 

We brag about how busy we are, but it weighs us down, Ingber said.

“ ‘More is better’ is hypnotic. We wear our packed schedules like a badge and we barely have a moment (to savor life). The truth is, our lack of rest creates great dis-ease,” he said. “We don’t solve problems, we don’t heal families, we don’t value friendships. The Chinese pictograph for busy combines the one for heart and the one for killing.”

Ingber emphasized the importance of rest.

“We need to experience dormancy, hibernating,” he said. “The seed in each one of us, in our culture can’t emerge (without dormancy). We are afraid that if we stop, the sheer enormity of our lives will overwhelm us. This is called the avoid-dance, avoidance.”

He asked, “Can we let go of the obsession to finish what can never be finished? We cross things off our to-do lists, and they keep repopulating. We never taste anything because we are too busy swallowing. This week at Chautauqua has been about noticing the world when we allow ourselves to rest.”

Those who vow to never surrender end up with sad faces and cold hearts. 

“They think that speed keeps them safe, but speed can’t last forever,” he said.

If a field is not allowed a sabbath every seven years to lie fallow, nothing will grow. If humans don’t keep a sabbatical, they will end in sadness and depression. 

“Shabbat is like Jesus said, ‘the kingdom of God is within,’ ” Ingber said. “Buddhists believe that the pure land of Buddha is available to all. I believe in that space. The Kabbalah says that shabbat is the place to go for spaciousness.”

In Jewish tradition, shabbat is a remembrance of both the creation and the exodus from Egypt.

“Rest is part of creation,” Ingber said. “Rest was created on the seventh day. It is the great pause in the cycle (of life), and if we don’t cultivate it, we won’t receive more.”

He continued, “We leave Egypt every week. We leave work for what will sate us. We are rebels with a pause. In pausing, we rebel and refuse to respond to life immediately. We take things off our plate. Less is more.”

When we honor creation and exodus, Ingber said, “we get extra soul on Shabbat, extra to save. Shabbat saves.”

A rabbi saw a man running down a street and asked, “Why are you running?”

“I am running after my good fortune,” the man said.

“Your good fortune is trying to catch you, and you are running too fast,” the rabbi said.

At the home of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, there was a shabbat box. He would tell guests: “Put anything in the box that will take you out of this space (of shabbat).”

Ingber urged the congregation to follow suit. 

“Make a shabbat box,” he said. “Walk with no destination, light candles and make a sacred space. Smell the fragrance of the world.”

He uses a breathing practice to employ shabbat space all week long. 

“I exhale and wait for God to fill the space,” Ingber said. “Practice guerrilla love — extend an inner blessing to random strangers. What would happen if we practiced inner shabbating? These are all ways to remember to be human, to rebel with a pause.”

There is a ritual at the end of Shabbat to prepare for the separation from the sabbath. 

“We have a blessing of wine or other spirits, we smell spices and we have a blessing over a candle,” Ingber said. “On this Friday morning, on a day we remember the massacre of seven Sikh worshipers 10 years ago, for me it is the hospitality of this place that has stood out. Hospitality is greater than receiving the face of the divine.”

Ingber has been intoxicated by the words spoken in lectures, the fragrance of all who extended their hands and laughed with him.

“I found illumination in this evolving community, giving the stage to the Jewish community,” he said. “You are working to be more loving and to work together. I am struck by the brilliance of people trying to make a difference. Shabbat will come again, and I hope to come again. Shabbat shalom, Chautauqua.”

Rabbi Samuel Stahl, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, presided. Arthur Salz, co-author of Shalom Chautauqua: the Hebrew Congregation and the Jewish Presence, gave the reading “The Sabbath,” from the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel. The prelude was “Yism’chu,” and “Oseh Shalom,” played by the Motet Consort: Barbara Hois, flute; Debbie Grohman, clarinet; and Willie LaFavor, piano. The anthem, sung by the Motet Choir, was “O How Amiable,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The choir was under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, and accompanied by Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The postlude, played by Stafford on the Massey Memorial Organ, was “Toccata,” from Symphony No. 5, by Charles-Marie Widor. Support for this week’s services was provided by the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy, the Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Edmond E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund.

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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.