Our vacation in Arizona, visiting friends and family, was worth every warm minute. As temperatures climbed into the 80s, we were exceedingly mindful of the gifts of the sunshine. Eating outdoors, hiking in the mountains and canyons, wearing sandals and a t-shirt all felt so liberating. On the day we left, we rose early enough to catch the magnificent sunrise over the Santa Catalina Mountains from Brian’s parents’ backyard. As the early morning light painted rippling colors across the sky, we spent long minutes taking it all in. And then, we jumped in the car to begin the long journey back home.
Upon returning, we had a few spring-like days (in the 40s and 50s) to ease our transition to New England winter, before the temperatures suddenly took a downward turn with a return of the frigid cold. But the re-entry into this unusually brutal winter was less of a shock than re-entry into the usual fast-paced workweek.
Overbooked. While we managed to find seats on our flights, which departed and arrived on time, it’s harder to squeeze our lives into the overcrowded schedule. As I’ve gone from one meeting to another this week, I sense that I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I am grateful that my days are full of holy events: witnessing the immersion of a convert at the mikveh, sitting with people in mourning, teaching Torah, and serving at Cradles to Crayons with our Leaving the Garden (pre b’nai mitzvah) group. I would not want to “bump” any of these from my overbooked schedule.
And yet, we all need a little breathing room. I learned this lesson from the Torah portions of last week and this coming Shabbat, Vayak’hel and Pekudei. Both portions provide copious details of the construction of the mishkan, the portable tabernacle/sanctuary, and all of its furnishings: the oil menorah, sacrificial altar, basin, incense burners, tents and coverings, and of course, the holy ark that housed the two tablets from Mount Sinai. On first reading (second, if you fell asleep the first time), there seems to be little room for the mishkan’s spiritual content. These portions are “overbooked” with concrete materials and descriptions.
How can we find the spiritual purpose within these verses? Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Epstein, in the Hasidic commentary Ma’or VaShemesh, spoke to this seeming omission. Knowing that our lives demand a balance of the material and the spiritual, he imagined that the artisan Bezalel, who oversaw the construction of the mishkan, infused its creation with the lessons of Shabbat. Knowing the experience of rest and rejuvenation that comes from Shabbat, Bezalel and the workers he guided pursued their craft with an intention that shaped the mishkan’s spiritual essence. The physical offerings of gold, silver, fabric and jewels that the Israelites brought were given in a spirit of love and generosity. The workers gave their own offering by making their work a labor of love. All of this was inspired by the idea and experience of Shabbat, adding a dose of Shabbat to every plank and every thread.
How does their work relate to our own? Like the builders of the mishkan, we can breathe spiritual purpose into the spaces of our overscheduled lives. We don’t have to wait until Shabbat to rest. With each breath we have an opportunity to pause. By stopping to notice what we are doing and how we are doing it, we can invite Shabbat into the workweek. We can enlarge the spaces between meetings and phone calls and emails and, through that moment of breath, rediscover our purpose. Just as Bezalel understood that his work had a higher purpose – to create a space for divinity/holiness , so we can invest our work with intention and purpose and thereby make our work holy.
Vacations are wonderful. Shabbat is a gift. But we don’t need to overwork and overbook our lives while we wait for vacation or Shabbat to arrive. I can recapture that sunrise in the blink of an eye, and be renewed and awakened to holiness right now.
Postscript: This past week, whenever I’ve mentioned Arizona, the talk immediately turned to the immoral and discriminatory Arizona legislation to allow businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians. Governor Jan Brewer was prudent in vetoing this reprehensible bill. With all of the friends and family we have in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, we know that the intention of that bill did not reflect the sentiments of a majority of Arizonans. Let’s celebrate those who spoke up to defeat this legislation and who continue to fight for human rights and justice in Arizona. And thank you, Jon Stewart, for calling the bill "morally repugnant."