We are currently in a very special period of time in our calendar – the 7 weeks of comfort that fall between the suffering of Tisha b’Av and the hope of Rosh Hashana, our new year. We experience this comfort each of these 7 Shabbats when the haphtarah we read in Shul is taken from the consoling words of one of our most compelling prophets, a man named Isaiah.
Last week, at our in-person Kabbalat Shabbat we shared with each other in moving ways what brings each of us comfort – such an important thing to know in these confusing, challenging and painful times. Also last week, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg asked me to share with his community, New North London Synagogue, a few words about “the comfort of the spirit” at their community’s Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat. And I would like to share with you here some of what I said.
The really interesting thing about spiritual consolation, about the comfort of the spirit, about connecting to spirit, is that you don’t have “to do” anything. It turns out that we just need to allow it, we just need to “let it” be. This is so counterintuitive for our culture because we have been so trained in the importance of “doing” to get something, to achieve something or to make anything happen. But take a look, you don’t have to do anything to make your heart beat, or to make sure that your blood supply gets to your brain, or to wake up in the morning. You are connected to the Source of Life, to the Ground of Being, all the time.
Our tradition teaches us that we are all intimately connected to each other, and to life, by a power that is greater than all of us, and that our connection to this power and to each other is grounded in love and compassion.
Of course, we don’t feel this all the time. In fact, we are doing well if we can touch in this sense of connection on a regular basis. And as I said, we don’t have to do anything. We just have to get out of our own ways. We just need to let our egos quieten down and allow what is deeper than our egos to come to the surface. Rabbi Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks teaches that: “when we touch that spiritual core, we realise that we are far more than our thoughts and feelings. Beneath our ego, our personality, there’s a radiant field of awareness, free from negativity and connected to the aliveness of the present moment.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
And, of course, our Shabbat is how we train ourselves in this mode of “being” of “allowing” rather than “doing”. All week we have to “do”. We have long lists of “to dos” – I don’t know about you, but mine often seem never ending. But on Shabbat we stop. In fact, “Shabbat” means “stopping”. On Shabbat we are invited to put down our tools of doing, our obsession with “getting things done” and to just “be”. To be with ourselves, our spirit, our loved ones, our families, our communities, nature, our connection with the Divine. We are blessed to have each week our Shabbat that helps remind us, on a regular basis, that we are so much more than the sum of all we “do” – but rather that we are all unique, beautiful human “beings” (not “human doings”), connected in love to all that lives and all that breathes.