Elan Javanfard, L.M.F.T.
In Parshat Vaetchanan the Aseret HaDibrot, Ten Commandments, are repeated but with some significant changes. One of the most famous changes is related to Shabbat. In Parshat Yitro, it says, “Zachor et Yom HaShabbat Lekadosho…” “Remember the Shabbat in order to keep it holy” (Shemot 20:8). In this week’s Parasha it says, “Shamor et Yom HaShabbat Lekadosho…” “Guard the Shabbat to keep it holy” (Devarim 5:12). As mentioned each Friday night in the Lecha Dodi, “Shamor v'zakhor b'dibur ecḥad,” “Guard and remember in one saying”, we encounter the dual language of Hashem’s spoken words regarding Shabbat. These two words carry profound significance, not only in the realm of observance but also in the context of self-care and psychological well-being.
Self-care is the practice of intentionally nurturing our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It involves setting aside time to prioritize our needs and recharge our energies while simultaneously remaining focused on our priorities to reduce exhaustion. Shabbat, with its unique Mitzvot, offers a perfect framework for engaging in self-care and maintaining wellbeing, by reminding us where our priorities should lie.
Ramban indicates "Shamor" refers to the concept of guarding and preserving the sanctity of Shabbat, while "Zachor" refers to the positive command to remember Shabbat on a daily basis. The Chachmat Adam writes that when one counts days of the week, he should count from Shabbat. For example, on the first day of the week one should say that this is the first day from Shabbat, and by doing so he fulfils the mitzvah of “Zachor.” The Rashbam discusses that the mitzvah of “Shamor” is met by adhering to the commandments associated with Shabbat. Ibn Ezra further indicates the responsibility of the head of household to ensure Shabbat adherence by others in their home as part of the mitzvah of Shabbat.
On Shabbat, we pause from our daily routines, cease our work, and dedicate time to ourselves and our loved ones. This intentional break allows us to step away from the demands and pressures of the outside world, creating a sacred space for self-reflection and renewal. Hashem is teaching us about the attitude a person should have that will enable them to foster well-being. Throughout the week a person is required to work in order to earn their livelihood. However, in truth, all our efforts are not the reason for success, rather it is Hashem. On Shabbat, Hashem commands us to refrain from creative activity to express testimony that everything truly comes from Him. Succinctly put by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, "Shabbat is not a day of restrictions, but rather a day of freedom from the pressures of everyday life."
Psychologically, Shabbat can be seen as a powerful tool for stress reduction and overall well-being. The peer reviewed article entitled “COVID-19, Mental Health, and Religious Coping among American Orthodox Jews,” in the Journal of Religion and Mental Health provided evidence to this fact. The research indicates that positive religious coping, intrinsic religiosity, and having trust in God, all played a crucial role for many observant Jews in decreased stress levels and adapting well to challenges. By disconnecting from the constant noise and demands of our lives, we create an opportunity to cultivate meaning, reconnect with our inner selves, and foster a sense of peace and balance. If Shabbat is seen solely as a day to recover so that we can return to work, we lose out on the clinical power it presents. Zionist thinker Ahad Ha’am reminds us, “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Shabbat is a generational tool supporting the continuity of the Jewish nation through all our ups and downs.
When we integrate the concepts of "Shamor" and "Zachor" into our observance of Shabbat, we tap into the transformative power of self-care. The Soforno (Shemot 20:9) explains that Shabbat is not simply a day of rest from work or a day to recover and prepare to return to work. By focusing during weekdays on the idea that everything comes from Hashem, we allow ourselves to engage in “Zachor”, decreasing the need to overwork. This then allows us to tap into “Shamor”, by resting and restoring over Shabbat. Shabbat grants us the space to engage in activities that replenish our souls and bring joy to our hearts, whether it be spending time with loved ones, pursuing creative endeavors, and finding solace in prayer and study. By setting boundaries and prioritizing rest, we acknowledge our inherent worth beyond productivity.
May we embrace the gift of Shabbat as a beacon of balance and well-being. It invites us to engage in rest, reflection, and rejuvenation on a regular basis to reset our week. As we guard and remember the sanctity of this day, may we find solace, renewal, and growth, both individually and as a community.
Elan Javanfard, M.A., L.M.F.T. is a Consulting Psychotherapist focused on behavioral health redesign, a Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University, & a lecturer related to Mindfulness, Evidence Based Practices, and Suicide Prevention. Elan is the author of Psycho-Spiritual Insights: Exploring Parasha & Psychology, weekly blog. He lives in Los Angeles Pico Robertson community with his wife and two children and can be reached at Elan.Javanfard@gmail.com.