The October 2011 issue of Toronto Life has a delightful article with a serious point. (I don’t think it’s available online; you may have to obtain the antiquated paper version!) In “My Digital Sabbath”, Stephen Marche writes of deciding to go without all his electronic chachkes from Friday sunset to Saturday night.(Although he himself is not Jewish, his family picks this period as the screen-free zone because his wife is Jewish.)
It’s not a ‘classical’ Jewish sabbath; they are still doing plenty of what would be classified as labour within the halachic structure of shabbat. But it’s amusing to see how the abandonment of his computerism leaves him feeling displaced. He writes:
>I miss my computer. Tried to use a printed map lately? Or the >White Pages? Or waited for a radio broadcaster to drone through an >interview when you just want to hear the weather? Life without the >Internet isn’t just absurd. It’s insulting. It doesn’t care about >you.
Here, it seems to me, he has learned one of the great lessons of shabbat. We don’t rule the universe; we are part of it. One of the two reasons for observing the sabbath given in the ten commandments is to emulate God’s cessation from the business of creating. (The other is to remind us of our enslavement in Egypt and make it a moral touchstone.)
God, as it were, steps away from the possibility of continuing to decorate and detail the universe. Stopping is as important a creative decision as starting. (Think of how shocking and transgressive Van Gogh’s paintings are when they continue beyond the canvas and onto the frame.) Likewise, even though we are God’s partners in the ongoing operation of the universe, we need to learn to step back. Or, as Marche puts it in acknowledging the sorcerer’s power in the computer terminal, “Even magic needs a rest.”