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  • Writer's pictureReuben Berger

How Exodus 16:29 changed my life

Updated: Apr 30

After a long journey exploring numerous spiritual paths and experiencing an incompetent therapist for over three years to a tune of $50 000.00, I finally decided to take a high school friend's advice who encouraged me long ago to explore my Jewish roots.

So, one day I googled, 'How to Observe the Sabbath' knowing that observing the Sabbath was one of the commandments. From what I recall, it said that one should stay home, disconnect from all social media and socializing, eat lightly and try to 'not think your own thoughts' which I thought to be quite intriguing being aware that many people spend much of their lives with the same thought patterns running through their minds that they are likely not even aware of.

After reading that article, I spent the next four Sabbaths (traditionally starting Friday night at sunset until sunset the next day) I did just that. I found it somewhat challenging to be with myself for a day. It was like I was forced to let go of distractions that I would normally fill my days with ~ distractions to keep certain feelings buried within me.

It was around this time that I was helping a homeless person I had become friends with. He stayed at my place for a few days and one day, after it had snowed, he went out to make some money shoveling driveways.

He returned a while later with a tray of food from a house down the street. He said, "A Rabbi gave me the food; he said that he goes to the Village Shul," which was just down the street from where I was living.

I thought that giving my friend a tray of food was a nice gesture. I reflected on that synagogue (The Village Shul) that I had passed thousands of times over the years but had never felt drawn to go inside, in fact the building looked a bit more like a bunker with the door sunken back a few feet from the towering outer walls.

After four Sabbaths of staying at home, I walked over to that synagogue in the late afternoon. I was ushered in to go downstairs where I entered a ballroom with round tables where people sat around. I sat beside a man who wore a round fur hat ~ part of the Jewish Orthodox tradition. I wasn't aware that I was walking into a more orthodox synagogue. I had gone to a more conservative one just a few blocks away while I was growing up. How strange that the same 'religion' can have so many denominations.

There were some snacks and before long I began speaking with the man who I was sitting beside. It turned out that he was the Rabbi who had given my homeless friend some food.

I began going to the synagogue, often attending the morning and evening prayers quite a few days of the week. It didn't take me long to figure out that the Sabbath was the BIG day at the synagogue. The prayer service would start around 8:30 in the morning and often there was a lecture before that one could attend. Then, just after ten you could continue with the prayers or attend one of the lectures that were offered. There would be another lecture in the main sanctuary just after 11 once the formal prayers were over.

At noon, there was a communal luncheon (Kiddush) in the main ballroom downstairs. Sometimes I would get invited to someone's house for another lunch after the ballroom luncheon. I would then go home for a few hours and return to the synagogue closer to the end of the Sabbath for more prayers and another simple meal and lecture in the ballroom. It was quite a bit of walking, talking, listening, praying on a day that was meant to be restful.

And so, I began going to the synagogue on the Sabbath thinking that was the proper way to observe it since that is what many were doing.

I did that for the next few years.

Then, one day I was at the family cabin up on the edge of a vast wilderness. It was December so the woodstove was keeping the little cabin warm. Having a copy of the Torah, I explored some of the various teachings/laws on the Sabbath; one line, Exodus 16:29, practically jumped off the page, 'See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.'

After reading that I decided that I would stay home and rest on the Sabbath as I had done when I began exploring my Jewish roots. I was amazed by how much I actually needed to rest. I did this diligently for a number of years, discovering I had more energy for the week ahead after having that one day of deep rest. I also became aware that those who were spending their Sabbath day mostly at the synagogue were likely not experiencing this deep rest that I had discovered. I actually calculated how far one older couple that I knew at the synagogue would walk on a Sabbath to be close to 5 km's ~ just the walk alone was definitely not what I would consider to be restful.

My subconscious programming from some early life trauma seemed to be wired to keep me busy from day to day even if I wasn't being truly effective with how I was spending my time. Keeping busy was a strategy that I had adopted to keep me somewhat disconnected from deeper layers of my emotional world. Staying at home for a true rest day once a week seemed to have broken this pattern of 'always keeping busy' and was therefore one of the most important aspects of my healing journey.

I imagined one day all the synagogues in the world being closed on the Sabbath allowing those who went there to experience this deeper rest that I had discovered. I wrote a 4 page mini essay on why I felt the synagogues should be closed on the Sabbath to encourage this deeper rest experience.

And then, Covid arrived and almost overnight ~ perhaps for the first time in thousands of years, all the synagogues in the world were closed on the Sabbath.

Through this experience I came to discover how rest is one of the most important aspects for healing to occur. In fact, many of the healing modalities ~ bodywork, sauna/cold plunge, float tanks, etc. allow a person to drop into a deeper, restful space where healing and restoration are more likely to occur.

I will often encourage people to take one day a week to experience this deeper rest which also allows one to reflect on how they are spending their time during the week, giving them more energy for however busy their life may be the other six days of the week.

It seems as though there are four states of being: wakefulness, sleep, dream and rest/meditation. It seems as though most experience the first three but truly resting seems to be a challenge for many who seem wired to be constantly busy.

Rest in Peace while you are still alive.

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