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"How Covid-19 Taught Us the Value of Shabbos" - Rabbi Zvi Block

How Covid-19 Taught Us the Value of Shabbos

by Zvi Block, Rabbi Emeritus of Toras Hashem in Valley Village, Los Angeles 
A CEO of a major company was overwrought with stress and pressure from his work. He was full of anxiety and couldn't think straight to make proper decisions. Seeking a break in some manner to relieve his stress and relax he decided to spend the weekend in San Diego at the beach. But he made a big mistake because he took his cellphone with him and was constantly responding to calls. The relentless 9-5 existence, and pressures that we are all subject to, seem to rob and deny us the “luxury” to reflect on our lives, re-set our priorities, recharge our batteries. Can this unprecedented phenomenon of Covid-19, and the forced moratorium on “life as usual,” that it has imposed, provide an unforeseen benefit with a new insight into the value of Shabbos observance?

The average Jewish person who has his fair share of stress and anxiety, needs a break as well. While he can't afford a weekend in San Diego, he does have a Shabbos without his cellphone and a path to relieve stress very well. By observing the restrictions of Shabbos we liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the urgent and throw off the shackles that modern technology has latched onto us. For the last several weeks we haven't been running around as much and have been restricted from working, shopping, traveling, and entertainment venues. Sounds like Shabbos doesn't it? Guess what, most of us have adjusted quite well. Moreover, we have tasted the blessings and benefits of Shabbos at the same time. The family is home more often, we sit down to meals together, and we are finding creative ways to get along with each other. We are also finding the blessings of simplicity such as fresh air, blue skies, and green trees. While we are connecting with each other and our neighbors, we're also discovering Hashem and His gifts that form our world. Is this not “Shabbos?”

The Gemora teaches that Hashem told Moshe that I have treasured gift in my treasure house and it's name is Shabbos. I wish to give this to the Jewish people. The Gemora further teaches that once there was a princess who came to a rabbi's house for dinner. She remarked how tasty the food was. She commented that “there must be a special spice in this food; where did you get it from and how distant is the land you got if from?” The rabbi replied, “It's not distant at all, it's called Shabbos and it doesn't cost anything. All you have to do is observe the day and it's yours.”

The imperative correlation between Shabbos observance and the delights and serenity of Shabbos is compelling. The ethical message is implemented in the form of practical halachic observance. To truly experience the joys of Shabbos we need to accept upon ourselves a quarantine of 39 forbidden labors. Get rid of the cellphone, the air-polluting car, the idiot box that fills our heads with depressing misinformed news and entertainment of questionable moral worth. Instead fill yourself with values of family, education, discipline and spirituality. Quarantine is not a popular word these days, in fact the human spirit might reject such an imposition. Truth is, that it is particularly the restrictions of Shabbos that allow its beauty and sanctity to emerge.

In the most benevolent way possible, our Creator “quarantines” us once a week. The Talmudic passage that refers to Shabbos as a gift directs the Jew to acknowledge this gift and to use it properly. In doing so, not only is the Jew quarantining himself from pernicious elements and distractions from truth, but he is also receiving an all encompassing embrace from Hashem. The Master Physician, has prescribed a potion to keep us happy, healthy and holy. Give that weekly quarantine a try on Friday night and throughout the Shabbos and you just may find how liberating it can be! Maybe this is Hashem's message from the Covid-19 pandemic.

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