My favorite way to spend Shabbat is actually quite active. Ideally, Shabbat begins for me on Friday morning, shopping for the evening meal. Sometimes, it includes cooking something special in the kitchen Friday afternoon. Shabbat is sitting at the table with family and, perhaps, some friends. Shabbat is being at the synagogue on Friday night, singing familiar songs. Shabbat is making kiddush and telling stories into the night. Shabbat is coming to the synagogue in the morning with familiar companions and newcomers. Shabbat is wrapping myself in my tallit and reciting morning blessings and psalms. Shabbat is hearing Torah chanted and savoring a new insight or two about its meaning. Shabbat is tearing the challah, pounding the table, and laughing too loud for the shear joy of it all.
When I come home from the synagogue on Shabbat afternoon, though, I really am ready for that nap. Sometimes I collapse on the bed and conk out for an hour or so. But my favorite place to be on Shabbat afternoon is with the people I love. It is our family's least stressful, most playful, and most honest time of the week.
We go for a walk amid the long shadows of late-in-the-day. We have a leisurely meal. We play a board game or eat too much ice cream. Sometimes, we all gather in one room and quietly read our books with our bodies collapsed over the furniture, and over each other. All of the energetic activity of the week and of Shabbat evening and morning are finished. There is nothing left to do. It is my soul's moment of rapture. Shabbat afternoon is life without pretense, without deadlines, and without needing to be anything we don't want to be.
I need this. I deeply need Shabbat afternoon all the way down to my toes. I need a time when I can just remember who I am, whom and what I love, and what it feels like just to be comfortable in my own skin. I need to remember that the pleasure of the breeze on my face on Saturday afternoon is as good as the satisfaction of finishing a writing project on Thursday evening, as good as conducting a successful teaching program on Tuesday morning. Actually, it feels better. Shabbat afternoon is the time when I allow myself to appreciate just how great it is to love, to be loved, to be alive, and to rest.
Of course, the magic of Shabbat afternoon cannot happen without teaching the class on Tuesday morning and it cannot happen without the writing project on Thursday evening. It will not appear without the preparations of Friday morning and afternoon. It can't take shape without the davvening on Saturday morning. You cannot experience true rest fully and deeply until you have released yourself from something fulfilling and engaging. We cannot know that we have entered Shabbat afternoon until we surrender ourselves from the world of doing and accept the world of being.
So, give yourself this gift. Release. Make Shabbat afternoon a time to disconnect from busyness and reconnect to simple joy. Connect to your family. Connect to your friends. Connect to your loves. Connect to your soul. You will find that the m'nuchah of Shabbat afternoon is not just a rest stop on the highway of an over-scheduled life. It is not just a reward for your labors and accomplishments – no more so than exhaling is a reward for inhaling.
Once entered, Shabbat afternoon is a world of its own. It does not have to be earned or deserved. It is always there, waiting for you, beckoning you. Let Shabbat afternoon be the ecstatic awakening of your deepest soul.