Remember Opposite Day? Here's how it worked: As a kid, you declared the day Opposite Day, and on that day everything you spoke was the reverse of what it normally meant. Yes meant no. Up was down. Right was wrong.
Opposite Day was perfect for torturing your sibling.
"Do you like eating worms?" your little brother would ask.
"Heck, yea!" you would respond.
Giggles followed.
The Jewish Sabbath has some things in common with Opposite Day. A kind of reversal of the other six days of the week, Sabbath is a 25-hour period where our 'normal' lives are set aside. We do and say things on the Sabbath that—while not exactly the opposite of our behavior during the other six days—are something of a strong contrast.
We spend our time not on work, but with dear friends and family. We think. We discuss. We pray. We relax. Among the things we don't do: We don't drive on the Sabbath, we don't answer the phone, we don't do anything that impacts significantly on the natural world. In short, we change our patterns and our relationship with the conveniences we've mistakenly come to accept as necessary. We interrupt the impulses we normally give in to without a second thought.

Yuck. Why would anyone do this?
What's the point? What's the benefit?

Well, try to imagine a couple of things:

Imagine a life without contrast.
Day in, day out, it's all the same. Nothing changes. Events are predictable, familiar, and convenient. A steady life without contrast might be comfortable, but a lack of significant change or difference in our lives can lead to stagnation. If everything's always the same, how do we grow? How do we change? By deliberately introducing a periodic break in our typical patterns of activity, we put ourselves in a position to better challenge and change our behaviors, our thoughts, and we gain better insight into ourselves and our values. This effect can last like an echo through the following week.

Imagine a life without rest.
That is, imagine slavery. It's easy to take our freedom for granted, or to lose our sense of appreciation and gratitude for what we have, such as our autonomy or our relationships with others. The Egyptian taskmasters are long gone, but Shabbat still gives us the chance to truly rest, to assert and affirm our freedom from whatever might enslave us. We become grateful for what we have because we're not distracted by those things that matter less. By clearing away other concerns and making space for quiet and contemplation, we just hear better and see better. And with that clarity, we can readjust our perspective on what’s important.

Funny thing is, when understood and practiced appropriately, Shabbat no longer feels like a bunch of inconvenient restrictions. It begins to feel like the way things are supposed to be. It’s not like there’s real life for six days and then there's Shabbat, but more like the reverse. Shabbat's the real thing—setting aside the time for communing with nature, with your spouse, with your children, with friends, with your thoughts and those of others—and the other six days are just the necessary distractions we occupy ourselves with in the meantime. The restrictions of Shabbat give way to an understanding of what really matters: freedom, rest from enslavement, the opportunity for growth and the expression of gratitude for being alive.

Remember the feeling of being stuck at home after a huge snowstorm? No shopping. No driving. Just time to enjoy, think, and break from a normal pattern of chore and habit. Instead of "can't do this" and "have to do that," on Shabbat, like during a wonderful storm, we "get to do" the things that, when we really understand and appreciate life, we would normally choose to do anyway. There's an ironic freedom that results from the so-called restrictions. It’s quite the opposite of what people might think.

 

Why not try it?
That's what Oneg Shabbat is all about.