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Why Does Shabbos Sometimes Feel Anything But Restful?

Ever feel like the day of rest is anything but restful?

Me too. In this short article, I want to open your perspective to see the Sabbath, rest, and the experience you have of it in a new way.

In the Gemara (Shabbos 12a), the Gemara cites a source about visiting the sick on Shabbos: “One who enters to visit a sick person on the Sabbath should say: The Sabbath prevents us from crying out for your recovery, but recovery will come soon.” Rabbi Meir says, “One should say the Sabbath itself can have mercy and bring your recovery.”

The Sabbath is a day of rest and delight. It is prohibited to arouse feelings of mourning and sorrow, hence it is prohibited to pray on the sick person’s behalf because it may arouse these feelings.

On this, the Maharsha (Rabbi Samuel Eliezer Halevi Edeles) explains that “a sick person might mistakenly believe that the Sabbath delays his recovery, because were it not for the Sabbath, people would pray for him. We therefore reassure him by saying that although praying is prohibited on the Sabbath, recovery will come soon.”

Although comforting, Rabbi Meir holds the opinion that “Sabbath itself can…bring your recovery,” which is very powerful and sheds light on a transformational mindset towards healing—on Shabbos and during the week. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) comments on Rabbi Meir, explaining that “if he honors the Sabbath [even though] he’s in pain,” perhaps he will be healed.

This commentary could be seen in a limited way, suggesting the instruction is to ignore one’s pain. However, Rashi is sharing a novel approach to healing. In addition to “honoring the Sabbath,” perhaps Rashi is also revealing that if the sick person “honors” the pain, he will be healed from it, as will be explained.

When a person experiences pain, G-d forbid, it is common to resist it and do something or take something to relieve or take away the feeling of discomfort and dis-ease. However, often this approach comes with stress and resistance. Honoring the pain is to acknowledge that there is pain and it may be unpleasant and uncomfortable; yet, listening to it, thinking positively, treating it and oneself with ease, and focusing on gratitude, and that this experience is happening for the person, not to the person, all guide the person to the source of the experience. It’s all from G-d and in fact is G-d. Ein od Milvado—there is nothing but G-d. With this in mind, the response to the pain will arouse curiosity instead of lack of acceptance.

Additionally, as spoken about in a podcast of mine, our bodies are made to be self-regulating and self-healing. We just need to get the blocks out of the way. In fact, getting out of one’s way—away from overanalyzing, forcing an outcome, and resisting the pain—is what allows Hashem to heal and bring recovery.

When there is a change in one’s inner environment of thoughts and feelings, it causes the person to place his attention on the cause. Scientifically, the brain produces brain waves when a person is in a type of alertness. Under stress, the brain produces high beta brain waves, which causes the person to place more attention on the outer environment. Rather than having a rested and open focus, there is a concentrated, convergent focus. This prevents self-regulation, while having an open focus promotes healing. The latter allows parts of the brain to become coherent. The former creates incoherence in the brain, causing the parts of the brain not to communicate well with the other parts because the person is in stress or dis-ease.

What is the Sabbath?

Rabbi Meir said, “The Sabbath itself can have mercy.” But what is the Sabbath? How can it itself have mercy and healing?

After six days of work, the Torah teaches that “on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested” (Exodus 31:16-17). We learn that there are two aspects of Shabbos: Put simply, the doing and the being, the guarding and remembering.

Many works of Chassidus illuminate the inner meaning of the Sabbath. For example, during Shabbat we embrace the stillness of being and non-doing. It’s a holy day and time in which one’s attention is diverted from the week where attention is on work. The prohibitions on the Sabbath are to facilitate entering a state of rest and simplicity that is within. During the day of Shabbat, we “return to a state of stillness, silence, and calmness of spirit” (The Mystery Of Shabbos, Rav DovBer Pinson).

From this, we can gain possible insight towards healing from Rabbi Meir’s words. When a person enters the state of “the Sabbath,” a state of being-ness connected to his Source, despite the pain, thus “honoring the Sabbath,” by placing attention on the holiness; then, “itself can have mercy,” the state of the Sabbath is a state of health, mercy, and where there is no other thing. There may be pain, but it’s received as a message rather than a curse. The more it is listened to and honored, the more each moment reveals and returns healing. The word Shabbat shares a root with the word shuv, which means ‘to return’.

What’s the Message?

Sometimes as Shabbos is welcomed, it can be experienced as unrestful, especially as the weekday comes to a close and Shabbos nears very closely. In fact, it’s taught that Satan incites argument Friday afternoon at twilight just as Shabbos is about to enter (Gitin 52a). The occurrences of the week may influence feelings of pain, anxiousness, and analysis that don’t always just dissolve come this holy day. Even during the daytime of Shabbos—with all its beautiful prayers, connections, food, and more—the person can be met with exhaustion and overthinking.

Nevertheless, this itself—the pain and analyzing—can be seen as healing. In healing work, it’s common that before the healing there is pain; before relief is discomfort. It’s like pus that rises to the surface before the healing. It appears gross and uncomfortable, but to clear away, the pus must rise up. Another way of looking at it could be like a detox effect.

In meditation, discomfort and analyzing are actually signs that the practitioner is doing the practice properly. Discomfort and resistance come when there’s change. So there would be no discomfort if there was no growth. So if you experience discomfort, perhaps it's a message that you’re entering Shabbos just fine. In fact, it means you’re elevating from the mundane to the holy, and this transition can come with turbulence, like a rocket leaving the earth and arriving into no gravity.

Whether it’s the weekday or the holy Sabbath, exercise opening your focus and seeing that the pain and discomfort you may be experiencing—may G-d remove all pain and sickness—is a message from G-d, and that “Sabbath itself” can bring healing.

By entering the state of Sabbath within myself—peace and wholeness—regardless of the circumstances, I am already healed. The Sabbath represents wholeness and completeness, where work is finished and there is only health.

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