My Lutheran Upbringing & Why I Don't Drive On Shabbat

If you go through most Jewish communities on a Saturday, you’ll probably notice Jewish families walking to and from synagogue and each other’s homes – usually dressed to the nines and never carrying anything. The reason for this is because it is Shabbat: the Jewish Sabbath. During Shabbat, there are things Jews should and should not do. Work and commerce are the big no-nos, but included with that is driving or riding in a car.

What does driving a car have to do with work?

There is a command in the Torah not kindle a flame during Shabbat as well: “You shall kindle no fire in all of your dwelling places/habitations on the Sabbath.” – Exodus 35:3. When the ignition is engaged, this causes a spark which ignites fuel.

While this is the primary reason I do not drive a car on Shabbat, there is a much more selfish reason why I don’t: I simply don’twantto.

I grew up in a traditional Lutheran household in Oklahoma. We attended church every Sunday and Wednesday. I was extremely active in the youth group as well as the boy scout troop that met there every Monday night. Though I have since converted to Judaism by way of the Modern Orthodox movement, I still think back on those times fondly. When I think back specifically about what I specifically liked, most of those times are actually some of the most Jewish aspects of that Lutheran life: the proximity of the spiritual community.

The church we attended was immediately across the street from our neighborhood. Even though we attended the church for over a decade and all of us were always in attendance, I can’t count on one hand the number of times we all went together and left together. Usually a few of us would go early for some reason, some would come late, some would stay late to help with something, and some of us would go home. The church was the hub we were spokes on a wheel. All the while, most of this was while I couldn’t drive. Most of the time, if my parents didn’t have their own Sunday school classes to attend, I would walk there by myself. If they had a committee meeting to attend and couldn’t give me a ride home, my brother and I would walk home. Many of the families that attended the church lived in the surrounding neighborhoods and their kids would do the same.

This brings me back to modern predicament: driving on the Jewish Sabbath. When some non-Jewish friends and co-workers hear that the Torah doesn’t allow for the kind of actions that would be required to drive on Shabbat, the comments are usually in the vein of, “Oh, you can’t drive on Shabbat? What a drag.” What a drag? No way! I love it. Why? Because I don’t think about it in terms of “can’t do” but rather I use the main purpose of Shabbat – a time to rest – and look through that lens to everything expected of me on Shabbat. I can’t drive? No, I don’thave todrive. I can’t work? No, I don’thave towork. I’m free from it all.

Growing up so close to my spiritual community spoiled me when it comes to modern Jewish life. I looked forward to the walk to church. As a kid, I didn’t have any ID, rarely had any cash on me, and certainly no cellphone. These days, when I walk somewhere on Shabbat, the same is true. No wallet. No phone. No worries. I feel like a carefree kid again even if just in 24-hour increments every week.

Another reason I love not driving on Shabbat is that it makes my spiritual community that much closer. After we moved from my childhood home to a lake town about 45 minutes away, we used to continue to make the drive back to our old church just because couldn’t bring ourselves to detach. Even with the families we loved still there, it proved to be way more stressful than it was worth. I remember my father getting stressed out by the traffic and it ruining his whole Sabbath vibe. When the church was around the corner, there was no such thing as traffic. When we were done with services and hanging out with friends, we’d all want to kick off our Sunday bests and relax. After a 45 minute drive, we were on edge and the free feeling of the entire day was shot.

There is another command in the Torah in regards to Shabbat:
“…Everyone is to stay where they are on the Sabbath day. No one is to go out from his place.” – Exodus 16:29
While this can sound like the no one is supposed to leave their house, the word for house is not used – rather the word translates closer to “positions” or “areas.” The same word “ממקמו” is used in Joshua and Judges in terms of geography. While this was usually in reference to walled cities or areas with some form of a boundary, many understand these days to mean a neighborhood, district, or a section of city with a man-made barrier. While I don’t think the ancient Israelites knew that not being able to kindle a flame would mean that their fire-driven animal-free wagons (automobiles) would not be able to operate on Shabbat, they certainly understood not traveling beyond their own sections of town on the Sabbath.

While I am a traditional Jew in my observance and I wouldn’t even start my car on the Sabbath, it is a pleasure to not even think about driving on Shabbat. I look forward to the time every week when I can leave my car keys in the drawer and not have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or potentially have to mess with any auto maintenance issues. For that day every week, I’m happy to be a care-free 12 year old.

I Still Miss Pork Rinds

There are many rabbis I’ve heard talk about how we should make our will conform to the Torah. I’ve heard Christian pastors say similar things about believers. While I see some value in keeping organizations together, I find that this kind of thinking makes it where the Torah isn’t that much different from the world. It doesn’t feel as fresh. If the Torah’s laws are completely my own will, then the Torah is no more meaningful to a law that I don’t have the possibility of breaking. I’ll do my best to explain. 

Any converted Jew who says they hate the taste of ham, of REAL bacon, or some fresh shrimp is lying to themselves on some level. Yes, I’m making a very broad statement because there could have been people out there who didn’t like any of these things even before they started keeping kosher. But the point is, once you hit the mikvah or make a covenant with God, this does not turn off your love of things that you no longer than do. 

With full confidence and without shame, I can say I wish I could still do these things: 

  • Eat pork rinds – I loved pork rinds. 
  • Eat fried shrimp – I ate fried shrimp at every seafood restaurant I would go to. 
  • Take a bite out of a big fresh ham – FRESH ham, mind you; that low quality ham has always been gross. 
  • Play gigs on Friday nights – not every Shabbat, of course.
  • Shave…when it’s convenient (job interviews, etc), even though I don’t think I ever would. Just the idea that I could would be nice. 
  • Go out without wearing tzitzit. I get weird looks – especially being in Oklahoma.
  • Get some tattoos – I’ve never had a tattoo, but if they were ok according to Torah, I’d probably have quite a few. 

Is it wrong for me to still want to do these things? Not at all – as long as I don’t do any of them. That’s actually something I really love about the Torah; it’s so much bigger than me. I loved these things, but I love God more. The Torah can definitely be inconvenient when it comes to my own fleshly desires and that’s why I cherish it; it lets me know that not everything is about me. I don’t try and justify doing these things just because I want to do them and I feel that really makes the Torah so beautiful.

How We're Wired: Day of Rest

In this very fast-paced world, many are looking to ancient ways of dealing with modern problems. Today, stress is a huge contributor to illness and the reasons why seem to elude us. Hundreds of years ago, people who worked with their hands and minds still lived considerably long lives; even with the lack of breakthroughs in medical innovation that we enjoy today. Many are discovering that the reason why their desk job is actually generating higher levels of bodily stress than, say, working manual labor on a farm or in a carpentry shop is because while our ancestors were dedicated to their craft, they also understood that you need a break.   

Now, this post is not an “Enter into the Sabbath because the Lord commanded it or else” type of post; really you don’t even need to believe in God in order to benefit from this bit of information. Still, being a person who believes in God, I personally feel that God did not design us to function at full speed throughout the week which is why He commanded us to rest on the Sabbath. Just like a bear hibernates seasonally, so our bodies are designed to need a weekly break from pursuing material gain. Not only that, but our bodies become accustomed to a cycle of a specific day of the week on which to rest that, regardless of looking at a calendar, our bodies will be able to detect. I discovered this when I was wondering why, on Saturday afternoons, my body goes into a state of near exhaustion in search of sleep while at the same time of day on, say, a Thursday, my body is in a completely focused state; even having had much less sleep on a Wednesday night than a Friday night. 

Knowing that one needs to take a break and have a regular day off work is not the same as experiencing one, but many have trouble understanding why all business must cease; even if the business is buying and selling using wireless device while laying on a bed. The fact is that we have trouble entering into a true state of rest if our minds are still participating in our own quest or monetary or material gain. To think that we can fool our minds into thinking that we’re engaging in leisure is fool-hearty. Your mind control all you nerve impulses, respiratory function, digestion, and blood flow simultaneously; what makes you think you can fool it into thinking you’re resting? 

For those who are having trouble grasping with the subject of not resting, here is an exercise you can do:

– On a lunch break from work when you’re clocked out and on your own time, eat your lunch and do whatever you do to unwind a bit on your lunch break in a main area of business traffic in your office or work place. When someone approaches you asking for a favor or question that could wait till after you’re through having your break, focus on the internal struggle that is happening in your mind. You want to relax, but you’re being asked to break your rest in order to get back to business. Well, whether you can actively feel that struggle or not, it is happening within your body and spirit when you do not give yourself a day of complete rest from your weekly work, business, or commerce duties. Over time, this struggle can have disastrous effects on your physical health and make it more difficult to spiritually align your mind with your body.  

Relaxing on Shabbat with my niece,
Madeline Rose.
I personally challenge you to select a day, any day, and make that your day off from your job, your shopping, your chores, and rest. Read a good book. Watch a funny movie. Gather around the table with family and friends over a good meal to tell stories and jokes. Take a nap. There doesn’t have to be anything religious about it. Make it habit. After a few weeks you will see positive results not only in your health, but in your frame of mind. 

If you’ve already taken on this day of rest, comment about your experiences for others. I hope you all have a very relaxing day of rest. 

– Ken

"I'm Shutting Down Applebee's, So Don't Be A Dingus."

If you were to ask someone who doesn’t keep Shabbat when Shabbat starts, even if they were knowledgeable of other cultures, they’d probably tell you that it starts Friday night at sundown. While this seems fairly feasible, if you were to ask someone who keeps Shabbat when Shabbat starts for them, they’d probably tell you that it starts Friday afternoon, Friday morning, or even possibly Thursday or Wednesday. I know it sounds really odd, but Shabbat wouldn’t be Shabbat without being prepared. In order to properly prepare for Shabbat, the Torah commands preparedness: 

והיה ביום הששי והכינו את אשר־יביאו והיה משנה על אשר־ילקטו יום ׀ יום
“On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in , it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” – Exodus 16:5

After God have Israelites the Sabbath and then was nice enough to give the manna in the desert, He didn’t necessarily have to say “Oh, and by the way, I’m locking up Hardees this Saturday so please don’t be a dill weed and try to hit it up. Make a run to the Manna Grocery Store and load up before the sun goes down Friday night.” But guess what? To ensure that we couldn’t screw it up, He did anyways. We should feel blessed to have a God that puts up with us; even when we’re complete morons.

Everything God teaches His people goes beyond the immediate understanding and applies to numerous aspects of life. As God had Israel prepare for Shabbat, for the High Holy Days, and as they approach Him in prayer and worship, we are also taught to prepare ourselves for whatever life has in store for us.

– Ken

Shabbat: You Don't Have To

A co-worker was walking by my desk one day and struck up a conversation with me. Somehow, we got on the subject of music and my band. 

“But that’s gotta kinda suck that you can’t play shows on Friday nights because of the whole Jewish Sabbath thing.” 

I didn’t really think about it too much before replying. 

“No, actually it’s really nice to have a night off.” 

Suddenly, the concept of a rest period came to mind even more. Most people who don’t keep Shabbat don’t really stop to think that people who keep it are called to rest on this day. Most of the time, these people just think about everything that the Torah forbids people from doing on Shabbat. 

  • I can’t go to my job. 
  • I can’t go shopping. 
  • I can’t conduct business. 
  • I can’t work mow my lawn or work on my house. 
  • I can’t go out on the town with friends. 
  • I can’t ignite a flame.

Really, when I stop and think about it, most people in society just simply do not stop. They perpetually have work on the brain. They are constantly being advertised to in order for them to purchase products. They are immersed in making sure their home is taken care of and rarely do they allot themselves a night with family where they can just sit down, talk about their week, crack jokes, tell stories, and laugh around the dinner table. 

With this mindset, I would like to amend my list of “can’t”s into a slightly different style of list. 

  • I don’t have to go my job.
  • I don’t have to go shopping. 
  • I don’t have to conduct any business dealings. 
  • I don’t have to mow my lawn or work on my house. 
  • I don’t have to go out; rather, I can have people over. 
  • I don’t even have to light a match. 

Just because it occurs weekly, people seem to forget that the Sabbath is a holiday just as holy as the rest of the holy days in the Torah. For my Christian friends, imagine how you’d feel if your boss said you could have all the luxuries of xmas every week. Forget work; just have some friends over, cook up a big meal, and enjoy each other. 

Shabbat is not one a day a week when I can’t do something. Shabbat is that one day a week that I look forward to all week long when I can put on my space helmet and blast off to another place far away from the chaos of the week. 

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.