Shabbat Shalom
Shabbat Vayikra/ 1 Nisan 5775
Lev. 1:1-2:16 | Ezekiel 45:16-25

This Shabbat, Marco Siegel-Acevedo shares 
The Fine Line Between Toil and Labor

It all began to shift the moment Debbie suggested a place for our next date. Our first Friday night date. "B.J.'s? Wait-you mean that diner on Sixth?"
"No, no. BJ," she laughed. "B'nai Jeshurun. The synagogue around the corner. You'd love the music."

We were both newly single. She lived in a tiny condo on Manhattan's Upper West Side; I was crashing, for the time being, on a futon in a colleague's spare room. Debbie knew that being around people, and grooving to a killer band, would be a big draw for me. So it was to be in a synagogue. And?

The music was wonderful- but what really floored me that night was the seamless blend of joy and worship. Or more accurately, joy in worship. This was not what I'd grown up with. As a Roman Catholic kid I associated worship with a kind of self-chastisement. Sunday mornings were the come-down from Saturdays, with their morning cartoons and idle afternoons; a steeling oneself for the week's grade school drudgeries. As an adult, my week was given over to projects, clients and supervisors; Friday and Saturday nights were for partying with your coworkers, and Saturday and Sunday mornings were for sleeping/recovering. Sunday afternoons were somber and introspective, Sunday nights were often grim with visions of the Monday morning salt mines. Most of the introspection was short-term, given over to last night's or last week's conquests and failures. The bigger picture was hard to grasp.

That night, as my work colleagues were having their first pints of the weekend, I was listening to words of a prayer I'd never heard before-praise of Creation and G-d as lyrical as the poetry of Blake. Afterwards the rabbi, spying a new face in the crowd, came over and welcomed me. Kabbalat Shabbat became a habit; a whole new way to start the weekend. And as it turned out, the start to a whole new life.

Later that year, in a sermon just before Pesach, the rabbi spoke of Egypt-Mitzrayim-as a metaphor: the tight spot you can't so much as turn around in. The psychological chains we allow ourselves to be placed in by our jobs, our social constraints. A place, really, of unconsciousness. I filed this thought away, and when I came to my path of conversion, my Derekh Torah, it blossomed again. One of the many wonderful books I'd been assigned was Arthur Waskow's account of the Jewish holidays, Seasons of Our Joy. Pesach, he says, is the distant memory of two ancient Levantine nature festivals repurposed as a commemoration of history. The renewal of shepherds' flocks and the clearing of chametz from farmers' homes and storehouses to make way for the new harvest had been observed each spring, perhaps for millennia. This ritual ebb and flow following the rhythm of the natural world was then charged and changed forever by the singular event of the exodus and the promise of a covenant: the joint project of Israel and G-d.

A dawn of consciousness.

This thought was reinforced by another book I was assigned, Abraham Heschel's slim classic The Sabbath. His enduring metaphor for the Jewish project, our civilization, is the palace in time, which we glimpse and inhabit collectively every Shabbat. In practicing Shabbat I affirm for myself that the work to avoid-true toil- is mere product for product's sake, for the glory of the sale or the account: blinders-on, nose-to-grindstone output that keeps me from stepping outside and seeing the bigger project: laying groundwork for the well-being of my family and my self and my world-foundations, walls and beams for a solid house, a welcoming house, with open doors open all 'round. A house you can keep adding rooms to because it's a house in time, to scale down Heschel's overarching idea. The house informs the work, and the work becomes a blueprint for the house.

Fully present - Judaism has blessed me with cycles of opportunities to live fully present, in moments of consciousness and beauty that compel me to work-labor-my way around to get back to the moment again, whether the cycle is a week, a season, or a year. Of course, Mitzrayim is often there, at the far, wintery turn of the wheel. At "hump day," when I lose the thread and labor becomes toil. Come Thursday, I'm often just ahead of Pharaoh's chariots. And then it's Friday night, and I'm standing on the far shore, safe but winded, refreshed by that last fine, briny spray of Red Sea as the waves settle back down.

And then I look round, to see the sea replaced by that big unfinished house, now quiet in its repose and promise, then echoing with tefillah. Hopefully each time it is just a little bit clearer, a little more solid, yet all one with the light and the trees. Heschel calls it a palace, and so it is.

his wife Deborah and their twins Anya and Teo have been members of Beth Emet since moving to Evanston from New York City in 2012. He is a graphic designer and art director at a labor-intensive but relatively toil-free agency in Chicago. His favorite recent design project was working with Rabbi London to create the graphic for this year's Shabbat theme, "Being/Doing."

Each Friday during 5775, we are featuring writings from you, our congregants, sharing reflections on Shabbat. We hope you will be inspired to share your reflections with the community. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please contact Stacey Zisook Robinson
This Shabbat at Beth Emet

Friday, March 20
5:45 p.m. Reception in the Herman Crown Room honoring the outgoing and incoming Board of Trustees. 

6:30 p.m.  Kabbalat Shabbat in the Sanctuary including the Installation of the Board of Trustees. D'var Torah by Rabbi Andrea London.
Saturday, March 21
9:00 a.m. Tot Shabbat and Kiddush in the Weiner Room  

9:30 a.mShabbat Minyan in Room 208.
9:45 a.m. Kahal Worship in the Weiner Room with Torah Reader Wiley Feinstein and Torah Discussion Leader Laura Miller

Mazel Tov to Michael Levitas and Olivia Levitas son and daughther Lesly and Steve Levitas on the occasion of their b'nai mitzvah.
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