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Editorial: Shabbat, unplugged

Journal Staff

MARCH 8, 2018 – When the electricity went out across northern Massachusetts just as Shabbat was arriving late Friday afternoon, it served as a reminder of just how much our society and culture has changed over the last 25 years. Our immediate reaction was to reach for our phones and determine what areas lacked power and when the grid would be restored. Once that was accomplished, preserving cell phone power became a huge priority for many.

Then the reality hit: depending on how long the power would be out, our cellphones would eventually go dark. We had no electricity, no heat, no Internet. That forced a shift from passive to active behavior. Flashlights needed to be located, candles had to be lit; extra blankets had to be found. In our quest to do all of this, we passed by many of the electronics that have come to help define our lives. And we realized that we would have to make do without them: our burnished screens that some of us look at for hours each day had gone dark. 

For this writer, the moment brought an unexpected sense of relief. As Shabbat rolled in, the house grew silent – save for the gale force winds whipping across my roof, and yard. Every hour or so, a tree limb would land with a thud outside of my door, or on my roof. When I looked outside I saw trees bent in supplication; there seemed to be an innate wisdom emanating from the whole scene. 

I thought about the year, 2018 – and began to think about the privileges we’ve been granted, as Americans; Jews; human beings. A little more than a century ago, most of our relatives could not have imagined that life would come to a standstill without electricity. They “made do,” as they would say, with a lot less.

Staring outside of my window, listening to the howling wind – it sounded like a giant fan hovering over my house – I closed my eyes and felt a moment of grace. I was reminded just how little control we have over our lives. I picked up a New Yorker, and sat by a candle and read about a new deli that had opened on the Upper East Side. My wife and I had a couple of long conversations about what our families did when there were blackouts when we were young. For the next 24 hours or so, I was reminded of the wisdom of Shabbat. It was OK to be still; to become totally bored; to listen to the wind; to talk directly to G-d. Comfort can emerge from the darkness, I realized.

When the power returned, it seemed like a bit of a letdown. Instead of reaching for a screen, I went out for a walk and felt a sense of gratitude for all that I had been given.   

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