Family was this week’s theme. My brother and his family came up the first and we all visited until they left today. And whenever I had free time, I was busy journalling and playing video games. In fact, I’d probably be off playing video games right now if it weren’t Friday.
“If it weren’t Friday?” But–but the weekends are supposed to be for fun! And aren’t video games fun? Well, yes, but you see, that’s not the only thing the weekends are for….
When I was in Israel, a friend of mine remarked that if I wanted to be more observant of Shabbat, to slowly eliminate things I shouldn’t do on Shabbat. Then, as I build better habits, to cut away even more. I’ve done this for a while, and now there are a few things I no longer do: I don’t cut my nails or shave, and… and… and maybe I haven’t gotten as far as I’d like to, though I swore I added something else….
I know I thought a while back about cutting video games out of my Shabbat routine, so from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday I would not touch them at all. But since I didn’t play video games at the time, I didn’t. After all, if there wasn’t any effort involved to change my behavior, what meaning would be gained from changing it?
Obviously, that has changed. So now I am cutting video games out of my Shabbat routine. I like video games. They’re fun. They bring back good memories. They make me flex my mind with puzzles and stuff. But now, on Shabbat, they are no more. Gone. Nada. Nothing.
Some probably wonder why I bother. How observant I am doesn’t change how I believe or even what I believe. But changing behavior does change thought patterns. By restricting myself, even only slightly, I’m drawing my attention to the cause of the limitation–and thus being more mindful of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is all about rest. And didn’t I say rest is one of the pillars of my goal to take care of myself? It all comes together.
Perhaps just as importantly, when I cut out some things, I make time for other things. Without video games to distract me, I’ll enjoy time with friends and family, I’ll read, I’ll write. I’ll do sudoku to ease my mind toward those oft-desired delta waves instead of using The Ocarina of Time 3D to do it. Both will get the job done, and one only requires pad and pencil (and an eraser, too).
Observing Shabbat also reminds me how it feels to be Jewish. Just like Puritan values have become mainstream secular in the US today (why do we obsess over money? The truth might surprise you), my own Jewish beliefs have become secular as well. Keeping kosher? It’s habitual. Being studious and respectful of my teachers? Common courtesy. All of these values and ethics–they’re a part of who I am, and none of them as I embody them day to day remind me explicitly where they have come from: My Jewish upbringing and my Jewish identity.
Identity is something I know a lot about. Being gay, you have to know yourself and be able to justify yourself a lot younger than most other people. Self-awareness becomes ingrained in a way that doesn’t happen for the average person. Being Jewish does that, too, but people don’t give me as many funny faces for being Jewish as they do for being gay. I don’t have to defend being Jewish. Nobody’s trying to change my beliefs or take away my rights because I don’t believe in Jesus. But it feels like I have to defend being gay all the time. People are trying to change my sexuality. They are trying to take away my rights. So when it comes to building identity and showing it to others, it seems I put more effort into being gay than being Jewish.
I don’t like how I worded that. I’m not “putting effort” into either one. It’s not like I have to work hard to be attracted to guys or that I have to discipline myself to think Jewish thoughts. However, being gay demands visibility–without it, how will hearts be changed and discrimination defeated? Being Jewish, on the other hand, can pass unnoticed because it’s never an issue. So what I mean to say is that I often feel I put more of myself into being visibly gay than I put into being visibly Jewish. Both are equally as meaningful and personal to me, but when I have to fight to be accepted on one side but not the other, that’s the side I feel closer to daily.
I don’t think I’m doing a good job getting to my point. My point is that being Jewish means something to me–or at least I feel like it does. But not doing Jewish things takes some of that specialness away. When we lit Chanukah candles, it felt right. When I get to stand in services, even when I’m dead tired, I feel energized and awakened. Studying the Pirkei Avot opens me to new aspects of my history. But on a daily basis, I don’t do these things, and then I lose touch with the warmth being Jewish and feeling my Jewishness give me.
Which is why it means something, if to no one else than to me, when I try to be more observant of Shabbat. Because when I forget to shave Friday afternoon and see myself in the mirror Saturday morning, or when I really needed to cut my nails and forgot, or when I’m craving some monster battles or horse riding but simply cannot play, it reminds me of the spirit of the day, of the rest I should be espousing, and for a few brief seconds I get to taste that Sabbath delight.