by Sara Berman
A famous pianist was once asked how he handled the notes so well. The pianist answered that he handled the notes no better than others, but that the pauses between the notes - that was where the art resided.
I often think about the importance of the pauses. Since I was a child, while not observant, my family's one tradition was a Shabbat dinner together on Friday night. Now, with two children of my own, my husband and I have continued the same tradition.
There are certainly religious aspects to these dinners, such as candle lighting and kiddush, but what makes these dinners special is that we are all together. During my childhood and still today, it is difficult to find the time for us all to sit and share a meal.
These weekly dinners are my pause; they create a dependable rhythm in my life that not only reinvigorates my body and mind, but more importantly, allows me to live more freely during the other six days of the week. It wasn't until this past year that I fully appreciated this last point.
My oldest son, Jacob, is about to be two, and I have spent the past year struggling to set limits in his life, a process that does not come naturally to me. I often have to remind myself why Jacob can't stay up until 10 o'clock, come into my bed in the middle of the night or have the truck that he covets at the toy store.
Many people think setting limits for children is important because it prevents them from becoming spoiled. Some parents believe it is the only way that children will understand that they aren't the center of the universe. And maybe both these reasons are true.
But neither of these is the compelling reason that sticks in my mind when I decide to set a limit in Jacob's life. Limits liberate children. When Jacob knows that there are firm boundaries in his life, he can feel safe and comfortable exploring the areas within these lines. When Jacob knows what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is his and not his, what is safe and not safe, he is, in fact, free. When he tests the limits and appears unhappy with the boundaries in his life, he is, on some level, making sure that the limits are still there.
And so it is with Shabbat. The pause at the end of the week is far more than just a day of rest. The effects of a day of reflection and attunement to the spiritual nature can be felt long after the day is over. It is, in fact, during the other six days of the week that the result of pausing on Shabbat can be felt most powerfully.
I can expend energy knowing that there will be a time to refuel. I am able to go a day or two without reflection because I know there is an appointed time when I will be able to take it all in. I am able to push harder and longer during the week because of what is waiting for me on the seventh day.
Often G-d's relationship with man is compared to a parent's relationship with his child, particularly when we are unable to fully understand G-d's actions. Parents, we reason, sometimes make their children do things that feel confining or even like a form of punishment. But in some cases, parents know best. And even if at the time these demands feel unjustified and punitive, eventually we realize that our parents only have our best interests at heart.
So too, with G-d's commandment to observe the Shabbat. What appears to be restrictive forces us to become expansive. The pauses between the notes make the music far sweeter and richer than it would ever be if it carried on uninterrupted.
Sara Berman is a former News Editor of the Forward. She studied Jewish history at Columbia University and is currently a journalist in New York.