The New Yorker magazine (1/19/15) ran this fictitious text exchange between 2 friends “trying” to make plans, that says much about our times:
A: Hey, girl! So great to see you at Mike’s party on New Year’s. You free this week? Want to grab drinks?
B: Yo!!!!! Sorry it took me so long to respond. I’m the worst. Yes! I’d love to! First round is on me because I’m so terrible. Tuesday???
A: Ugh, Tuesday is my friend Rachel’s birthday. I am the actual worst. What about Weds?
B: Weds works! Let’s email next week about where to go. Yayyyyyyyyyy.
B: I am total garbage at scheduling and forgot we were supposed to meet up tonight. Could you do Mon? SO SORRY. I feel terrible.
It goes on and on like this for a couple of pages of texts. This says something about what researchers have come to call “The Busy Trap.” Try this. Email, call, or text a friend and ask them: “How are you?” “Fine” is the response that you expect to get. It’s the polite response. But more and more—and I’m as guilty as anyone—the answer you’re likely to get is: “Busy. So busy. Crazy busy.”
Columnist Tim Kreider in the NY Times (6/30/12) notes: It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
Almost everyone I know is busy. We feel anxious and guilty when we aren’t either working or doing something. We have to schedule time with friends. Remember when you grew up, if you wanted to see your friend you knocked on his/her door? Who does that anymore?
In today’s Torah (Leviticus 23:1-2) reading Gd commands Moses to tell the Jewish people: Mo’adey Hashem asher tikru otam mikra-ey kodesh (Gd’s appointed festivals that you are to proclaim as holy convocations) eyleh hem mo’adai (these are My appointed times). It then mentions the holy convocations beginning with Shabbat followed by the major festivals: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot—each one, the Torah says, is a day of complete rest and “you shall no work.” Here Gd is saying to us, “You’re busy? Forgetaboutit!” There are relationships and obligations that transcend and take precedence over your calendar—even more important than that Google reminder that just popped up on your phone.
Eyleh heym mo’adai, Gd says. “These are My appointed times.” Only, moeyd means more than time. Throughout the Torah, the Ohel Moeyd (the Tent of Meeting) is the place where Moses goes to encounter Gd’s presence, to enhance his relationship with Gd. So Gd does not introduce the festival calendar with the language of time, but rather with the language of relationship. Moeyd literally means “appointment.” Gd is saying to us, “I’m penciling you in for an appointment with you on these days.” How can we not show up? What can possibly be more important than a meeting with Gd? No excuses. No ignoring. No ghosting. Show up for Me Gd says, but more important…show up for yourself!
Justin Milrad—CEO of The Berman Center for Addiction and Mental Health—wrote a beautiful piece in the Passover issue of the Atlanta Jewish Times (3/30/18). He writes: If you haven’t noticed, we are living in the loneliest generation in history. The prevalence of technology in our daily lives makes us lonely as we attempt to replace real relationships with online relationships.[Like those 2 girls trying to get together with their texts but never succeeding.]
Temporarily, we sometimes feel better when we engage others online, but these connections tend to be superficial and ultimately dissatisfying. Online contact is not an effective alternative for offline social interactions. We require actual, in-person, non-technology-fueled connection.
Recalling fondly his childhood Shabbat dinners with the family that later lapsed, he and his wife (who was inspired on a trip to Israel) decided to make Shabbat something special for them and their 3 kids. They decided to turn off their technology and connect as a family for one whole day every week. They call it “disconnect to reconnect.” No iPhone, iPad, email, TV, video games, Kindle, Facebook, Instagram—not even Snapchat. They were going to be present for one another, talk about their week, play games and be a family.
Justin writes: What? No iPhone, no Netflix—are you kidding? I’m going to crumble. Honey, the kids aren’t going to know what do you with themselves. What if I miss an important call or text? What if I miss a funny cat post? We are going to have to talk to one another? This can’t be happening.
While at first I was a skeptic, saying to myself, “Sure, we’ll do this for a month and be back to normal in no time,” I have found that those who engage Shabbat sans technology are really on to something. The Orthodox have this Shabbat and connection thing figured out.
Needless to say, now our family bond couldn’t be stronger. Our connection to one another is rock solid, and we are making moments that as a family we will remember for a lifetime.
My friends, we live in an uber-connected world. 90% of people are within 3 feet of their devices 24/7. 52% wake up in the middle of the night just to check their messages. We can connect with people on the other side of the world with the click of a button, but are we really connecting?
Eyleh heym mo’adai, Gd makes these appointments with us. Shabbat and Jewish holidays are the time we get to truly immerse ourselves in this connection, to truly notice those around us, to fully witness our kids, and to be present for spouses, friends, family and ourselves. It’s the time to evaluate “How connected am I to them and to Gd?”
Rabbi Akiva Tatz says it best for me. He describes Shabbat as one long meditation. He notes that the meditation of Shabbat is the meditation of being, not becoming. It’s from the awareness of our being this Shabbat that the next week’s becoming is generated.
We live in a world in which we are all so busy—doing so much, becoming so much—that the expectations we place on ourselves, our kids, our colleagues and our spouses are generating such high levels of stress. Shabbat and Jewish holidays are Gd’s gift to help us destress—so we don’t lose sight of why we’re doing it all and what really matters.
Justin Milrad challenges us: Try disconnecting to reconnect for 3 consecutive weeks on Shabbat and see how it makes you feel. I can pretty much assure you that your stress and anxiety will start melting away while your happiness quotient goes up.
Eyleh heym mo’adai, Gd says in our Torah reading today. “I’ve scheduled an appointment with you.” How can you not show up? Amen!