Let’s be reasonable

Let’s say your hiking in the wilderness and you lose track of the days of the week. One afternoon it occurs to you that you’re not sure when to celebrate Shabbat. What to do? The sages present two possibilities: 1) count six days and then make Shabbat, or 2) make Shabbat that first night (Talmud, Shabbat 69b). What’s the rationale for these views? The first approach mirrors the Creation sequence, while the second orients from the vantage point of human beings who were created on the sixth day. So waiting six days honors God’s perspective, while waiting less than a day honors human’s.

This week’s primary portion of Torah sequences Sabbath observance after six days of work (Ex. 23:12). It reverses the flow presented in last week’s Ten Commandments injunction to make Shabbat holy (Ex. 20:8-9). Perhaps we can flip the reasoning of our hiker. Could not laboring six days honor human productivity, and making Shabbat as soon as possible be a way of honoring God?

Being reasonable is not always as straight forward as it sounds. We often construct reasons to explain events that suit our needs, beliefs, and desires. It has been noted that there is a one-letter difference between the words rational and rationale.

Our sense-making capacities make us unique. They are the source of immense discovery and abilities to heal. They provide evidence that hope works. But they may sometimes also be celebrated for what’s beyond their capability. Just try talking yourself out of acting on an addictive habit that makes you feel good.

It seems wise to be cautious about making reason too sovereign in all decision-making. Cognitive clarity is necessary. But it may not be sufficient. Careful consideration should be roomy enough to include tugs from your heartstrings, following your gut, and even being alive to the spiritual eagerness of your soul.

And when you orient this inclusively for yourself, may you also extend more spacious considerations to your assumptions about the tastes, decisions, and beliefs of others.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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