by Rabbi Michael Schwab
Even before I understood why, I have always appreciated the quiet reflective moments that life sometimes offers me. For example, I look back with fondness on moments of waking up early while on vacation in the wilderness and sitting quietly watching the morning unfold with only the sounds of nature as my companions. I recall with great fulfillment the nighttime strolls with Erica on the deck of the cruise ship we took during our honeymoon, quietly experiencing the wonderful new reality of our marriage. I recollect many Shabbat afternoons sitting out on a lawn, or on a porch, thinking or just being, happy to experience simply being alive. Upon reflection I see that these moments represent opportunities to slow down, to raise our awareness, to increase our appreciation and to simply experience the joys of living.
Later in life I made the connection between the magic of moments such as these and the great spiritual offerings of our amazing Jewish tradition. To illustrate, our parsha this week gets its name from the word Shimini, or eighth. It is on the eighth day that the mishkan (holy tabernacle) is dedicated. It is also on the 8th day that we celebrate a bris. Why eight? The week is a seven day cycle and the holiest day is the 7th, Shabbat! However, the 8th is the day after the complete cycle. It is the day that represents the importance of how we reflect on, celebrate, and appreciate the fullness of what came before.
Symbolically it reminds us to take advantage of a number of powerful aspects of religious life. First there is prayer, a daily invitation to create an oasis in our day for reflection and contemplation. Second, holiday celebrations, which create a break in the regular cycle of the calendar and give us a chance to focus on aspects of life that we often fail to think about enough. And, third, there is the great gift of Shabbat, which, as Heschel taught, is the ultimate “palace in time” dedicated to appreciation, spirituality and raising awareness.
My prayer this week is that we all explore the power of Shmini and consider the many ways in which Judaism helps us to reflect on life and soak in the significance of life’s most important blessings.