Those in the Northwest are well aware that a major snowstorm hit the region this past week, dumping about a foot and a half of snow in Olympia alone. Even if you do not live in the region you know that we got a major storm as it made the national news: Seattle got as much snow over the past few days as it usually gets all winter (if that).
With the snow beginning last Friday, we made the decision to cancel Friday night services, unfortunate since we had a large community dinner planned. We then cancelled Saturday morning Torah study, then Sunday religious school. As the week rolled on we closed the offices, and then our monthly volunteering at the food bank, then other meetings. And as I write the public schools have been closed for the past four days.
The problem comes not just from the snow, but from communities that are not used to such weather not having the infrastructure needed to deal with it. And rightfully so, if you have to manage a snowfall like this once a decade, resources are better spent elsewhere. So it may be a running joke that we panic at the sight of a snowflake–it’s the Snowpocalypse!–but there is some truth to it. And we acclimate: growing up in the Northeast I was no stranger to snow and could manage it well enough. Now snow in the forecast fills me with dread.
But there is a benefit to having to shut down for a few days: in a world in which we are hyperconnected, overbooked and balancing so many obligations and commitments, this past week’s snow gave us forced downtime which we don’t normally get. We needed to be at home, refrain from going to work or school, not attend to our normal business.
For me, I found this to be a bit of a relief. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere or do my normal things, I gave in and just rested, something I have a hard time doing. I slept late, watched movies and shows, went for walks, went sledding with the kids, drank hot chocolate, took a leisurely dinner. I normally manage our family mornings, and I did so still, but instead of rushed breakfasts and packing lunch, I made personalized omelettes. There was also a power in the quiet–no cars or other regular sounds to distract from the silence.
Traditionally on the Jewish calendar we have a forced downtime, Shabbat, which is meant to be a retreat from the world, a time to slow down and reflect, a time to express gratitude for what we have. But not many of us observe Shabbat in a traditional fashion, nor do we live in communities that support such a complete cessation. Instead we have to carve out our Shabbat time, create Shabbat for ourselves.
Indeed, this is what our texts teach. In a passage from Torah (in next week’s Torah portion of Ki Tissa) that is excerpted in our liturgy as the song “Veshamru,” we read, “The Israelites will keep Shabbat, making Shabbat for all the generations an eternal covenant.” I’ve always been struck by the use of the two verbs here: “keep” and “make.” Shabbat will come at the end of every week no matter what, we are told, so we must observe it. But we only observe it by “making” it, by taking advantage of it and finding and creating meaning in it.
Simply having Shabbat on the calendar each week, whether we observe it in the traditional manner or not, is a reminder of this need to rest. When we take downtime, when we take time to care for ourselves, we honor Shabbat. And when we care for ourselves, we can care for others, we can be better community members, partners, parents.
This week’s snow reminded us–and especially me–of the importance of doing this. But it shouldn’t be forced by an excessive snowfall (an act of God?) to remember. So take the spirit of the snowfall, the sheleg, at least the first day, whether you had power or not, and remember the peace and calm, the liberation from obligations, the communal experience, and the turning inward. Try to capture that at other times. And Shabbat Sheleg Shalom.