Joe Lieberman, U.S. Senator from Connecticut, has successfully interwoven his religious traditions as an orthodox Jew with his obligations as a high-profile elected official. In his new book, The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath (Howard Books, Aug.; with David Klinghoffer), Lieberman offers an ode to the Sabbath, expressing his hopes that the day of rest will be a source of peace and renewal to people of all faiths, just as it has been for him.
RBL: Your book encourages people of all faiths, not just Jews, to embrace the Sabbath. Why?
Lieberman: By describing the traditional Jewish Sabbath that I observe, the hope is that non-observant Jews or people from other religions, or in fact, from no active religion, will come to understand some of the values inherent in the Sabbath and see how wonderful it is to stop one day and disconnect all the electronics and just focus in on yourself, your relationship with your family, and God. This will not only give you a peace of mind that the current pace of life deprives too many people of, but it will ultimately make you a better worker the other six days of the week.
RBL: How would you encourage those unaffiliated with the concept of Sabbath to first experience it?
Lieberman: The lives of most people these days are connected 24/7 to the Blackberry, iPad, and cell phones. One of the most important things I would encourage people to do would be to turn off all their electronics for a day or part of one. Let people experience what a liberation it is. Another thing would be to have a family meal and dress it up and make it as important and special as [observant Jews] try to do every Friday night and Saturday. The third thing, which is even a little more explicitly religious, is to follow the tradition we have of blessing our children. It has a lot of meaning, for the children, to tell them how important they are to us, and for us, to tell us what a blessing our children are.It also reminds us that we have the capacity to bless, something a lot of people think is just reserved to rabbis and pastors and priests.
RBL: How do you think our society would change if everyone adopted some element of the Sabbath?
Lieberman: I think we’d be a much happier country. We’d have much more perspective because part of what Sabbath does is force us to step back and take us out of the hullabaloo of the six work days and come back to first principles.But most of all, the Sabbath gives us the gratitude to appreciate that we’re alive and to appreciate the opportunities we have. I think this would be a much more peaceful and productive country, and in this particular time, especially when there’s such economic pain and anxiety, the Sabbath really brings you back to what’s most important. Of course, you want to have a job and be confident about the future, but the Sabbath reminds you that just being alive is a gift, and we each have the opportunity to make the most of it.
Chana Mayefsky is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Publishers Weekly.