The “Get Out Of Shul Free” Card – Shabbat’s Monopoly on Friday Night

Almost all of us have played Monopoly so we know how lucky it is to pick the “Get Out Of  Jail Free” card.  You stash it away knowing that it’s sure to come in handy sometime soon.

The “Get Out Of Shul Free” card works the same way.  Just like its Monopoly cousin, the “Get Out Of Shul Free” card is wallet-size, laminated and easy to find. This is how it works.  Say you’ve got theater tickets and the first play of the new season falls on a Friday night.  Maybe your grandkids or an old school friend have come to visit. Maybe there’s basketball practice or a late meeting at work. No problem. Simply drop by your synagogue, take out your “Get Out Of Shul Free” card and present it to your rabbi.  And just like they do at Starbucks when they punch your card so you can earn a free coffee, “Your Get Out Of Shul Free” card gets you off the hook for Shabbat!

I confess. The “Get Out Of Shul Free” card isn’t real. I made it up. What I didn’t fabricate is the strange equation that rabbis struggle with each week. A curious equivalency that places Shabbat on one side of the scale, and every other social and/or family activity on the other side and somehow the balance comes out even.

“Hmmm, Honey, what should we do Friday night?  How about a movie? How about bowling?  How about Shabbat?”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that there aren’t times when it’s important to make other plans, to fulfill other obligations, to do something other than light the candles or go to shul on a Friday night.  There are times when I’d like to do something else, too. What I’m suggesting here is that maybe it’s time for us to rethink our perception about the concept of Shabbat.  Maybe we need to give some thought to the idea that just like flossing our teeth, making Shabbat certainly takes effort but it also brings benefits for which there are no substitutes.

In her book, “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day,” author Francine Klagsbrun grapples with these same issues  She found that the Kabbalists focused on the mystical nature of Shabbat and that the hymn, “L’cha Dodi,” which welcomes the Sabbath bride on Friday evenings, is as sacred and joyful as a wedding — “a simcha where the male aspect of G-d marries the female aspect of G-d, the Shechinah.”  Coming to Shabbat services is as joyful and meaningful as being a part of the most beautiful, most spiritual wedding you’ve ever experienced.

Klagsbrun believes that a book that emphasizes the importance of  Shabbat is an idea whose time has come. She says, “I felt it was time to reclaim Shabbat and focus on it once again.” She notes that life is so much easier today than it once was, but now that we are hooked into the technology with e-mails, cell phones and smart phones, IPads and IPods, Skype and Snapchat – not to mention the ubiquitous television screen and our laptop computer — today we are either working hard or playing hard.  Unplugging becomes so difficult that we actually experience emotional pain.Now more than ever we need a day to stop and rest, to think about what’s important. Klagsbrun says that if we understand the beauty of the Shabbat tradition, it can touch our lives in a brand new way.” Simply put, there is nothing like a Friday night dinner and nothing like a Kabbalat Shabbat Friday night service to pull the family together.

Francine Klagsbrun is a realist and so am I.  Most rabbis understand Klagsbrun when she says that it is unlikely that all Jews everywhere will consistently embrace shul attendance every Shabbat. But she hopes that her  book will help people develop a new appreciation for the Jewish holiday that is the most important one our calendar, and the one holiday that comes every week of the year.

And that’s what the “Get Out Of Shul Free” card is really all about.  You can make a real card, complete with dots for your punches. Then feel free to enjoy your guests, the theater, the concert, whatever. But notice one thing. The “Get Out Of Shul Free” Card has only five punches.  Only five weeks available when you can opt out of Shabbat.  The remaining 47 weeks of the year are yours to enjoy. They are yours to cherish. They are yours for growth.

.Because no matter what else is happening in our lives, the good times are sweeter and the tough times more bearable, when we take time for that refreshing, soul-satisfying pause. It is yours for the taking every week of the year. Challah and wine, blessings and songs – the Shabbat basics offer rest, peace and serenity, Shabbat is your very own Jewish Community Chest.  Certainly other things get in the way, but the new secular year is upon us. The calendar says, “2016,” and making Shabbat offers us endless spiritual possibilities. If we make room for it and give it its own special place, nothing else holds a candle to Shabbat.

About the Author
Rabbi Barbara Aiello is the first woman and first non-orthodox rabbi in Italy. She opened the first active synagogue in Calabria since Inquisition times and is the founder of the B'nei Anousim movement in Calabria and Sicily that helps Italians discover and embrace their Jewish roots
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