Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Pre-Shabbat Thought


“The most profound change came when I turned off the TV. That suddenly transformed the whole Shabbat experience. It wasn’t about the electricity; it had more to do with the noise, the intrusion of the mundane into the sacred.”
“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?”
“No soup for you!”
“How you doin’?”
“To the moon, Alice!”
“Say goodnight, Gracie!”

Surely at least one of these popular TV catch phrases is familiar to you. Television informs our world. It is one of our major sources of information and entertainment. When I was in Religious School in Cincinnati, it was impossible to participate in conversations on Sunday mornings unless you had seen the previous evening’s Saturday Night Live. Thursday nights were dedicated to The Cosby Show and Family Ties (and if the President was on, it would ruin the whole evening). We couldn’t leave our Tuesday night dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s house until after we had all watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Before DVR’s, we would drive ourselves crazy making sure we were in front of the TV at the right time.

In the movie The Princess Bride, the narrator tells his grandson at the beginning, “When I was your age, television was called books!” When the rabbis of the Talmud were prescribing rules about keeping Shabbat (including the 36 categories of forbidden work), they had no idea what television was. They didn’t even know radio, electricity, or the printing press. Life was work and study. Families gathered around a table and listened to a wise master instead of staring at an electronic box for hours on end. To forego work on Shabbat provided an opportunity to focus more on reading our beloved texts.

Summer is a great opportunity to catch up on reading. We do it at the beach, at parks, and in bed at night. (It doesn’t hurt that most of our TV shows are on summer hiatus.) This week, in the spirit of both Shabbat and summer, I have two suggestions. First, spend a little extra time reading this Shabbat. Read with your family or friends, join a book club, or just pour a cold drink and relax with a book in your favorite spot. Second, let us know what you’re reading. I would love to learn from your suggestions, and I would be glad to share. Shabbat Shalom, and happy reading!

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