In the religiously and politically progressive spaces that the Jewish Center for Justice occupies, it is more common to see the Torah as a story with powerful moral lessons than an accurate historical account. As such, when it comes to the story of creation, we have an opportunity to learn from the origins of Shabbat and God’s need to rest.
As the story goes, on the first through sixth days of creation God worked to make everything from light and dark to land and sea to animals and people. But on the seventh day, instead of making more work for Godself, God rested. It is from this account of creation that the Jewish people find Shabbat, our holy day of rest. In fact, there is a famous saying from Israeli poet Ahad Ha’am that goes, “More than the Jewish People have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Our history of endurance is rooted in how we value rest and renewal.
I want to be clear though — we do not ever have to earn rest. God does not earn the privilege of resting because God worked for six days. Rather, I believe that God realized that after six days of work, rest was necessary in order to continue.
In the context of our lives, this means that we may have more on our plate than we can manage and it is our responsibility to honor our own divine spark by making time for rest, even when we are really busy. For some, rest might look like keeping Shabbat in a traditional way, such as abstaining from using electronics or being creative (e.g. writing, drawing, woodworking, etc.). For others, rest might mean something different, like a jam session with friends or baking fresh bread.
Experts recommend that one of the most effective ways to recuperate is to be out in nature; time spent in fresh air, near natural water sources, and open green spaces are linked to improved cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. That said, only you can define what rest means for you, and how you can give yourself the time and space to take a break.
Over the past decade more broadly, research has clearly charted the ample benefits of rest. In order to maintain health and well-being, both physically and mentally, people need to rest. While each person is unique and their rest should reflect that, there are many proven ways to avoid burnout.
However you decide to rest is up to you. And once you have taken the time to rest and recuperate, you will be better positioned to return to work, school, life, and the pursuit of justice with a tenacious energy and spirit.
Hannah Pomerantz is a Jewish Center for Justice Summer Fellow and rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.