Tonight I will be hosting my first Shabbat dinner. It’s a big production. I cooked a test brisket and botched it…badly..tough as leather. We’ll see how the next few turn out.
In addition to my brisket prep, I’m also preparing a short speech about why I’m doing this project and why Shabbat is important. I figured this would also count as my blog post for today, so here it is:
Thank you all for coming. Erica and I have been looking for an excuse to have a dinner party, and what better excuse is there than Shabbat?
I don’t know if all of you know this, but I’m not Jewish.
Shocking, I know.
But this begs the questions, why am I hosting a Shabbat dinner if I’m not Jewish?
Well, last winter, during the course of my normal winter sadness, I was contemplating life and what it means to live a fulfilling and meaningful one.
Does living a meaningful life mean I should focus on building a successful career? Becoming filthy rich? Upgrading from Ikea to Pottery Barn?
I thought a lot about this and I wasn’t satisfied with the answers modernity, or at least American modernity, offers.
So then I thought about where I could look to for more satisfying answers, and then it hit me:
Ancient philosophy and religion.
Religion and philosophy are in the business of finding out what it means to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.
And, if the religion or philosophy has survived until this very day, there must be something to it. If Catholicism helped people 2000 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and today, there must be some inherent value to it.
So I decided to dive in.
I called my project, “The Ancient Wisdom Project,” and the idea was that I would dedicate 30-day periods to practicing some aspect of an ancient philosophy or religion in order to receive a specific benefit.
I kicked off my project with Stoicism, which is an Ancient Greek philosophy designed to help people live according to their nature and achieve mental tranquility. It’s a bit like western Zen.
For Stoicism, I took ice baths every day to learn to appreciate my current circumstances.
Last month, I choose to practice Catholicism in an attempt to become a more compassionate person. I attended Mass almost every day and went through a portion of the Jesuit spiritual exercises.
This month, I chose to practice Judaism so I could understand what it means to be a part of a community.
One way I’m practicing Judaism, is by spending time with my friends at Shabbat dinner.
What fascinates me most about Shabbat, is that if you observe all the rules of Shabbat, you realize it’s actually quite inconvenient and difficult! You can’t conduct any business transactions, you can’t drive, turn on lights, etc.
But, true rest, like all things worth attaining, merit hard work.
Modern life has this insidious way of creeping into the times we are supposed to be resting. For example, how many of you have checked your work e-mail on a weekend? How many of you feel like your weekends weren’t really weekends because you had to run errands and just “take care of a few things?”
Even modern leisure doesn’t really allow us to rest. I think I’m relaxing after binge watching House of Cards all in one night, but I don’t feel more relaxed after 12 hours of being a couch potato. Going out for drinks on a Friday night is fun, but you have to find parking, try to get the bartenders attention, and then struggle to talk with your friends because the music is too loud!
And then it’s Monday again.
So I think Judaism is on to something with all its Shabbat rules. The rabbis realized how easy it is to get caught up in the world and how easy it is to forget that we need a sacred time to just…be.
It’s a time to be appreciative for all the good we have in our lives…and to temporarily forget the bad parts.
It’s a time to be truly focused on others…without the distraction of our iPhones.
It’s a time to just be.
I’ll leave you with a few questions to think about this week: “How would you make time sacred? What activities would you include and exclude? Who would you include and exclude?”
Thank you all for coming to celebrate this sacred time with us, and I hope you’re not too harsh on our brisket.