Q&A : Holiday Time – October 2008 – “Jewish Life” magazine
Chief Rabbi, it’s hard to believe that Judaism has anything to say about ‘holiday time’.
Judaism has something to say about everything. The Torah is G-d’s blueprint for how to live our life, and as Jews, we don’t compartmentalise. The world vision and sanctity of Judaism permeate every aspect of life. The concept of holidays and the notion of rest is a part of human life, and therefore Judaism has something to say about that too.
But the world has interpreted ‘rest’ as lying on the beach, ‘chilling out’, doing nothing – surely, we should be doing something more productive with our time?
There are two philosophies of rest. One is the absence of activity, that is the conventional wisdom, and then you have active rest, which can sometimes be even more refreshing. Shabbos is not about conventional rest – many things are going on. Shul, singing, davening, shiurim – this adds richness and meaning to it. It becomes refreshing in a very deep and profound sense. Shabbos is an opportunity to reconnect with G-d, and with our family and friends.
That sounds like a lot of work…
There is space in our lives for the traditional wisdom of leisure too. Sometimes, a person needs physical, mental, and emotional rest. Going to a different place or having a different schedule completely for an extended period helps this, and there is a great mitzvah to look after ones health – bodily, emotional, and spiritual. Seeking rest and time out helps us to be healthier in all those areas, and to fulfil that mitzvah. This doesn’t mean going to a fancy place, and can be done at home by having a different routine and exploring your world with new eyes.
So then, is it a mitzvah to go on holiday?
The Talmud says that when you get to the next world one of the questions G-d asks is whether you enjoyed the beauty of His world. This is indicative of the philosophy that says that G-d created us with chesed, kindness. He provides us with sustenance, but the food tastes good too and that is an act of kindness from Hashem – so we should experience the beauty of the world as an enjoyment of Hashem’s kindness to us, and holidays facilitate that.
So we shouldn’t wake up the morning after our holiday with the thought: when is the next one?
Modern life is very stressful. Constant intrusions and the technology meant to make life easier have made life much faster, and then of course there are stresses that are particular to South African life. It is important for the community to spend the holiday time being rested and feeling happy, but most importantly so that we can live inspired lives every day. It is all about how one approaches it.
How should we approach it?
The important thing to remember is that we can never take a holiday from Hashem, or from our mitzvahs. On holiday, we must still daven and learn Torah – and going to different places, or giving yourself a break from your everyday routine, helps you to feel an appreciation of G-d’s work, and there is a great joy in that.
So what do we think about leisure?
Is the leisure an end to itself or a means to an end? There is a philosophy that seeks pleasure as the purpose of life. The purpose of working throughout the year is to afford a holiday at the end of the year, or working hard during your productive years to gain an early retirement. Judaism has the opposite view. The purpose of holiday is so that you will be able to be a happy, energetic, productive, and contributing member of society.
What are the pitfalls?
Another major value of Judaism is that we have a constant obligation to keep ourselves safe, and to look after ourselves at all times. The Gemorrah says don’t travel at night, as it is far more dangerous. When going on a road trip, rather drive during the day when it is safer. The Gemorrah says parents have a responsibly to teach a child to swim, but still be careful with pool gates when there are children around. Be aware at all times and appreciate the preciousness of the gift of life.
Those are the physical pitfalls – any spiritual ones?
As I said, davening and learning should still be a focus. But time for family is also important. The pace of modern life often pulls each family member in different directions. Holidays can be a very valuable time for family bonding and for building strong relationships, which is vital for a healthy community, a healthy family, and a healthy individual. This can only be achieved with an investment of positive and lengthy time spent together.
In essence, then, holidays are to become more productive so we can be energised and infuse our everyday lives with meaning?
Judaism teaches us that the context in which you do something, or the purpose for which you do it, determines its identity. A person needs relaxation and rejuvenation, so if holidays are for that purpose, to make us more productive Jews and people, than what you are doing becomes a mitzvah. As a community, we can all benefit from a good, refreshing break – so that we can become more positive and grow together as individuals and communally.
Next time I apply for leave, I’ll tell my boss that the Chief Rabbi said it’s a great mitzvah to go on holiday!