Redirecting the search for happiness

Shabbat - the secret to happiness.

Shlomit Ovadia

Judaism Keeping Shabbat together
Keeping Shabbat together

In a day and age when people are becoming increasingly aggressive in their search for happiness and meaning in life, it is crucial that we remain connected to the magic of the mundane. This is the lesson I took away from my extended respite in Israel, which comprised of volunteering at an organic produce & herb farm, therapeutic horse ranch, and mom & pop-style farm, all situated against the beautiful landscape of Bnei Tziyon.

These weeks in nature inadvertently led me to reevaluate my understanding of Shabbat, the weekly advent of which brings its regularly-scheduled celebration of living presently and appreciatively. 

My mornings consisted of watching the sun rise and languidly stretch its rays across the tops of date trees, as birds clawed their way through the density of leaf litter cascading down. I sat an observer, watching as the days stretched before me in a collage of changing winds, moving clouds, and flighty bluebirds. I batted away cattle flies as I rinsed horses in the sweltering summer heat, and watched the trees sway in silent synchrony.  Pulling weeds, I noticed the different types of bugs that nestled themselves in the expanses of rich, organic compost-based soil, extending their long legs in frantic succession under the reach of my hands.

One day I would pick tomatoes. The next day I would notice how the fallen ones had discolored based on their position of exposure to the sun—white and ghostly limpid on top, and rich and pungent when turned over. The long bean stalks, you could watch how they transformed throughout the days, puffed and swollen with ripeness—chameleons carefully crawling along their vibrant green vines. The smells of wild lavender, mint, sage, and lemongrass wafting through the air along the nearby water banks. 

On the surface, not much seemed to be happening in Bnei Tziyon, but a closer look revealed that much in fact was happening, silently, gradually; it was an orchestra of small little miracles, and noticing them felt as if I had stumbled upon a secret universe.

Despite the hectic cacophony of events that characterizes everyday life, nature continues swaying to its own slow cadence, and this dependable grounded-ness serves as a source of solace, similar to Shabbat and other Jewish practices.

This stood out to me as being the primary difference between choosing a lifestyle of Jewish observance over living in a fashion that people consider “boundless” and therefore, happier. Doing the same mitzvot over time creates small pockets of habitual constancy, that, when noticed take on the same magic as does slowing down and living presently.

When you decide to rest on the Sabbath instead of tying up some loose-ends at work, you are stopping to enjoy the beauty and miraculous wonders of G-d’s work that clothe themselves in the continual and seemingly uneventful flow of nature.

Keeping Shabbat is akin to taking that weekend getaway from the busy city and into the countryside. It forces you to look at everyday things with greater appreciation—things that we take for granted and brush aside in order to accomplish our societal constructs of what it means to be productive and contributing citizens. 

In this way, my time in Bnei Tziyon felt like an extended Sabbath, as daily tasks that are normally treated with routine redundancy and insignificance became uplifted by their association with G-d, as the Creator of all nature.