As I was approaching the Farmer’s Market in my neighborhood, I noticed a homeless man standing across the street. He was directly in my path. My mind went through a few options… 1. Cross in the opposite direction so I don’t have to deal. 2. Pass by and smile but refuse if he asks for anything. 3. Give him a buck or two. 4. Feed him.
Living in Santa Monica, I see plenty of homeless people, and I don’t help all of them all the time. But today, I walked toward him and smiled, and when I did, he asked if I could spare a dollar. He was clutching a Rockenwagner bakery bag. No doubt someone else had given him something.
“What’s in the bag?” I asked.
“A chocolate pastry,” he answered.
“That’s not going to get your very far. How about some apples?” I replied.
He agreed and followed me into the Farmer’s Market. We went to the apple seller, I purchased him a bag of apples, and he disappeared.
By the way, it was Saturday. It was Shabbat.
Yup, I shop at the Farmer’s Market on Shabbat, and I do so with no guilt. Yes, I’m spending money which is traditionally a Shabbat “no-no,” but everything else about it is completely Shabbat to me. Going to the Farmer’s Market gets me out in the sun, and I find myself appreciating nature and the gifts of creation. I always see people from my neighborhood, and it strengthens my sense of community. I chat with the farmers about their produce, and I feel the connection of all peoples and lands. I leave with arms full of incredible bounty, and that is why my family’s Shabbat lunch is a local, organic, fresh, healthy experience. Spending money doesn’t rob me of my Shabbat experience. In this instance, money is a necessarily ingredient of a Shabbat experience I treasure.
Now, I won’t do anything and everything on Shabbat. I refuse to go to the 3rd Street Promenade or Trader Joe’s or anywhere else where parking is annoying, lines are long, and people are testy. Ask my kids. If we are in a parking structure nightmare on a Saturday, I start whining, “I’m getting cranky and it’s Shabbat!” But sometimes Saturday is the day my daughter has debate practice, or my son has a birthday party, so I enter the non-Shabbat world. What else should I do? If I tell my children they can’t be on the debate team or go to a birthday party because it’s Shabbat, aren’t I damaging their relationship with Judaism by refusing their participation in such things in the name of their religion? The things they love should be part of their Shabbat “tradition” too.
Here’s the way I see it. If I observe Shabbat in a traditional manner (no driving, no cooking, no electronics, no spending money), I certainly do make it easier to connect to my inner spiritual world by cutting myself off from the outer world. But perhaps an even loftier goal is to try to connect to one’s inner world while still taking part in the outer world. Finding some form of enlightenment while sitting on a hill top watching the sunset is one thing. But you know who I think would be an impressive spiritual master? A single mother of three who is working her tush off to put food on the table, attend dance recitals and soccer games, pay the rent, get everyone off to school with homework done, and still somehow find a way to reveal an Ultimate Truth.
I guess I share all of this with you because, while I hope we will all find ways to carve out special, holy, separate times for ourselves every week, I have no idea how that should look for you or how you should do it. We can acknowledge the need for Shabbat traditionally or untraditionally, but the important thing is the acknowledgment and to be authentically ourselves as we choose how to connect our inner worlds to our outer worlds. Only you know what works for you, and I am not about to judge.
So, I go to the Farmer’s Market on Shabbat, and this last time, there happened to be a homeless man there. If I hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have a bag of apples.