Community Blog The Universal Experience of Shabbat

By Matt Ponak
matt ponak traching

Shabbat, at its essence, is about finding rest, refreshment, and pleasure. It is about connecting with who we really are as a regular practice. This semester I had the pleasure to teach a diverse group of students at the Common Street Spiritual Center in Natick. Their backgrounds included formerly Christian now Pan-Spiritual, Spiritual but not Religious, secular Israeli, and people with Jewish background wanting to reconnect. Inspired by the teachings of Hebrew College Rector Rabbi Arthur Green, and Rabbis Zalman Schachter Shalomi, Zvi Ish-Shalom, and Tirzah Firestone, we engaged with Shabbat as a spiritual practice to be integrated into our lives no matter who we are. So the Hassidim say: as much as Shabbat is a day, it is also a state of consciousness. We can enter into Shabbat Consciousness with the right preparation and intention.

In today’s world, meaningful rest is truly needed. We are all living such fast-paced, technologically-oriented lives. It is really hard to keep our eyes away from the news or social media for a minute, let alone an evening, or a whole day. But, it can be difficult find an oasis in time on our own. After a couple of classes this past semester, a few of the students started coming early to share snacks and just hang out. By the end of our eight weeks we felt like a mini-community. Two of our students, both yoga teachers from different traditions, hosted their own Shabbat dinner which capped off our learning in December. Three students are now interested in starting to learn Hebrew.

One of the ideas the class really emphasized was based on a teaching from the Me’or Eynayim, an 18th century Hassidic text: Shabbat is about physical rest as well as spiritual rest. There is such a thing as the spirituality of the work-week. That involves self-refinement and looking at our inner difficulties, pains, and troubles, in order to be transformed. The spirituality of Shabbat, however, is more about accepting and celebrating who we are. During Shabbat time, it is as though the world is complete and we are whole!

The truth is, we need a balance of both week-day and Shabbat frames of mind to live full lives.

In the spring, I will be teaching a class on finding the hidden light within the darkness as we learn about the spirituality of work and transformation. I hope you will join us!


Matt Ponak, a student at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA. is an instructor in Hebrew College’s Open Circle Jewish Learning Eser series for young adults. Eser is currently enrolling for the spring 2020 series: “Hindsight is 2020: Judaism’s 10 Most Surprising Moments.” Information and registration here.

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