Friday, December 01, 2006
Dedicated to Natan ben Yosef Weinberg, by his loving family in his memory.
Here’s a question for your table: Would you like to know when you are going to die?
The Talmud says that certain righteous people die on the day of the week that they were born. King David, for example, was born and died on Shabbat.
This does not mean that you can judge someone by the calendar. What it means is much more interesting.
A day represents spiritual orientation. “The day you were born” refers to your spiritual potential when you were born. “The day you will die” refers to your spiritual orientation at the end of your life.
So the claim that “a righteous person dies on the day that he was born” means that a righteous person lives up to his or her fullest spiritual potential.
For example - let’s say that Monday represents money.
And let’s say that there is a person named Nathan who was “born on Monday”. This means that Nathan is a person with the potential to do great things with money (Monday=money-day – I’m making this up). If he lives a life of giving 10 percent of his income to charity, then at the end of his life, Nathan might be said to have “died on Monday”. However, if Nathan lives a life of greed and stinginess, he will not be said to have “died on Monday” - he will not have lived up to his spiritual potential.
Even though I made up that example, each day of the week actually does represent a spiritual potential.
What energy does Shabbat/Shabbos represent?
The answer is kedusha.
Some people translate it as holiness. (OK, so what’s holiness?)
Kedusha/holiness is a sense of separation or special designation. Marriage is called keddushin because the couple are separating themselves from other potential mates. We make kiddush on Shabbat and holidays in order to separate them in our minds from the other days of the week. It’s all about the meditative experience.
Jewish People are described as a “holy people” and we cultivate kedusha by being extra mindful in five areas:
How we talk, how we treat others, how we eat ... In many ways we have the potential for kedusha every day.
But in order to cultivate kedusha of time, that is to sanctify time, Jewish tradition gives us something called holy-time. That’s Shabbat.
Try this at your Shabbat table:
“God grant me the capacity to let go of the business, the busy-ness
of the world. To accept my life as a gift. To create the tenderness
and understanding that allows my family to be close and loving. To
enjoy the light and warmth and not be afraid of the darkness. To
cherish those who love me. To settle into peace with joy. To emerge
from Shabbat refreshed and rededicated to making the world a better
We don’t know who wrote those beautiful words. We do know that they were said every Friday night for many years at the Shabbat table by Nathan Weinberg of Baltimore, who passed away last Shabbat. Many people who knew him as a hard-working, family-oriented WWII vet; his grandson Ben remembers his grandfather admonishing him to eat a healthy breakfast in order to live a full, energized day. But we learned something new about him at the funeral, that the younger generation may be just starting to appreciate: that he had this enlightened orientation toward the kedusha of Shabbat.
Every day of the week is associated with a special energy, and the energy of Shabbat is kedusha. So someone who “dies on Shabbat” is someone who reached his potential for holiness.
In Nathan’s memory, I invite you to print out his meditative prayer to use tonight - become a disciple of the seventh day, the day of kedusha. Maybe that was his ultimate gift to us (Natan means “he gave”), for we each have the potential to bring a unique wavelength of kedusha into the world and our trouble is we get distracted. That’s actually the entire point.