Shabbat and Y2K Memories

Friday, 31 December, 2021 - 11:36 am

With January 1st falling on Shabbat this year, it got me reminiscing about another New Year that fell on Shabbat, 22 years ago. You might recall the hype leading up to “Y2K.” As the calendar was getting set to transition from 1999 to 2000, there was concern that the computers, which were programmed to use a two-digit formula to identify years, would be incapable of distinguishing between 2000 and 1900. The inability of those systems to distinguish dates correctly, had the potential to bring down worldwide infrastructures from banking to air travel. There was panic that planes would fall out of the sky, financial institutions’ systems would lose track of people’s assets, and the world as we know it would be altered. Thanks to much advance effort on the part of many computer programmers, the transition occurred nearly glitch free.

I recall sitting at home that evening, after a relaxing Shabbat dinner, getting ready to head off to bed, and remarking to Malkie, how lucky we are. While the world is freaking out about Y2K, we have Shabbat. Shabbat is a time when, for 24 hours there are no planes, no banks, no computers, and no worries about anything related to those matters. We were so relaxed, that I distinctly remember sleeping soundly to the extent that I did not even hear the fireworks at midnight. The next morning, we woke up and the world was still standing. The crisis had been averted.

This week I came across a teaching from the Baal Shem Tov that explains this Shabbat phenomenon is a most sublime fashion. In the creation narrative, the Torah tells us about everything that Hashem did for six days to bring the universe into existence. Then comes the seventh day. “Now the heavens and the earth were completed and all their host. And G-d completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did.”

On one hand we are told that the work was complete. On the other hand we are told that G-d completed His work on the seventh day. Which is it? The Midrash explains, that the way G-d completed the work on the seventh day was by introducing rest to the universe. What is rest? Abstaining from work. But in a deeper sense, rest is the absence of any movement or even change. Change is a condition associated with time and space. Introducing rest to Creation, meant elevating all of existence to its source, where time and space are entirely suspended. In simpler terms, Shabbat means that the universe plugs into an energy wherein regular everyday concerns are not merely suspended but are actually elevated to beyond the mundane. So, on Shabbat, the reason why there are no planes, banks, or computers, is because there really aren’t any. Their apparent existence is just a condition of our inability to see what reality is.

We are meant to take this experience of Shabbat and infuse the rest of our week, with all its mundane “realities,” with that same sense of Shabbatlike Divinity.

Wishing you a restful Shabbat
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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