Day 34 - Shabbas at Ma'ale Hamischa, Drive to Eilat (Netzach)
To me, Shabbat marks the end of the week, the end of a short chapter in everyone's life story. It is a time for rest and reflection, when we look back at the week that has passed and try to learn and improve from it.
I live by the saying "You learn something new every day" and today was no different. I will explain how I learnt this later but for now all you need to know is that you are not supposed to talk about what you are doing after Shabbat on Shabbat itself. Now, this may seem like a silly custom, but understanding it has given me a new perspective on Shabbat's meaning. Shabbat is a time to focus on the previous week and learn from it; to improve ourselves for the future and enrich ourselves spiritually, not to worry about the future which we can't control.
Ask yourself the question: "Do we really have control over our lives?" After all, there have been many examples of people losing all of their fortunes through no fault of their own, and devastating tragedies which have ruined lives but are not caused by the victim's actions or inactions. I have heard that you can to an extent control how happy you are, as even pretending to be happy makes you happier, but there is no controlling most of the bad or good things that can happen to you in a day, and those have the biggest influence on your happiness and life. What I believe Shabbat teaches us, is that whilst we can't fully control the future, by learning from the past and enriching ourselves spiritually, we have the best chance of living happier and better lives.
So now I would hope that you're asking the question: "Did IST-Netzach learn from the past and enrich ourselves spiritually this Shabbat?" To answer that, you need to understand what we did this Shabbat. Now, I won't go into detail or tell you about what we did on Friday night - I recommend reading Nadav's blog about Friday to read about that, but know that what we did on Friday night was very enjoyable and we learnt and grew a lot spiritually from it.
We slept in until 9:30. Like I said, Shabbat is a day of rest. Breakfast was next, followed by Musaf prayers. We were told breakfast would finish at 10:15 but it was closer to 10:45 by the time we went to Musaf. Musaf also ran late - starting about an hour later than it was supposed to. It was a very relaxed day, but that was good.
When Musaf finished we went straight to a discussion with Rabbi Benji. He answered our questions on Judaism giving the "approach" that he favoured - as in Judaism there are no direct or obvious answers to most difficult questions. I asked the question "How can we say that G-d is good if he caused the deaths and torture of millions of innocents during the Holocaust?" and although I didn't agree with the approach Rabbi Benji gave, it is always better to have many answers to a question than none. I know that everyone learnt a lot about Judaism and their lives going forward and in doing so enriched themselves spiritually.
After the discussion, we had free time for about an hour. We relaxed in rooms, playing cards and talking, further developing the already strong relationships created on IST. Free time was also a time for quiet, personal reflection about the week that had passed.
Then was lunch. We all sat down, in two very long rows of tables. There wasn't enough room so a few people brought tables to join to the rows. Everyone sat together. After kiddush and hamotzi, we went to get food. Michi (one of our madrichim) told us to only get our food one course at a time, dividing the lunch into 3. Of course, with all the food, from soups to meat to cake, being laid out for us in a massive buffet, this was hard, but it made the meal more enjoyable.
We were then sent to Chaburot, a time of learning with family groups. My family group sat on couches in the lobby, relaxing whilst discussing about Joseph's interpretation of dreams (which is in the current parsha) and what we can learn from it. A game was also played after the discussion with everyone joining in. It was a great bonding experience even though we were already very close and everyone enjoyed it.
More free time followed, again for about an hour. We mostly did the same as before, again playing cards, talking and thinking about the previous week. Afterwards, we went into the shul for seuda shlishit. It was a small spread, with pretzels, chips and crackers but it was enough, as after the big lunch, nobody was really hungry.
Already in the shul, we were then asked to rearrange the chairs. We all sat in a massive circle, leaving only a small space in line with the door. Gila (one of our madrichas) then told us we would be playing a game. Michi (one of the other madrichs) would be hosting a party and all of the other madrichim would be guests. They all had a specific "problem" which Michi had to find out. We all couldn't stop laughing at the madrichim eating their own socks, acting extremely femenine, and crying out in fear to words with the letter "m". It was then our turn and around 6 people were chosen as party guests, all with different "problems" to the madrichim before. Again, we couldn't stop laughing. It was great fun.
Then we prayed Mincha and Ma'ariv, looking out the massive glass windows at the back of the room to the hills of Jerusalem. Rabbi Benji started to tell us about what we would be doing later but stopped himself. He asked us to say a prayer to officially end Shabbat and then continued. From this I learnt about not talking about post-Shabbat on Shabbat itself.
We sang a musical Havdallah and then went to pack our bags. In an hour we were on the bus leaving for Eilat. The bus ride took around 4 hours, a reminder of the fun on the long bus rides of Poland. We talked, sang and relaxed, stopping once on the way for pizza and a mall. We then arrived in Eilat and went straight to the hotel. Chanuka candles were lit and we went straight to bed.
The question was asked earlier: "Did IST-Netzach learn from the past and enrich ourselves spiritually this Shabbat?" I think it is now clear that we did, whilst also being able to rest and relax from our normally busy schedule.
According to aish.com, the sages say that Shabbat "is a taste of Heaven on Earth" and it is G-d's gift to us, a sample of the world to come. It is obvious that Shabbat is a holy time, and I and the rest of IST are grateful for its existence. One of the most famous quotes I have heard about Shabbat is: "More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews" by Ahad Ha'am and this trip has made that seem truer than ever.