Unplug it and Plug it Back in: A teaching for Rosh HaShanah/Shabbat 5783
If you can observe a day in the life at the Grabelle Herrmann residence, you will probably hear me calling out to Jon, our resident tech expert. “My phone isn’t working, what do I do?” “My computer isn’t working all of a sudden, what do I do?” And often you will hear Nadiv calling out the same kinda question: “The Tv isn’t working again. What do we do?”
Despite the fact that I ask this question, let’s say multiple times in a week, and the answer is always the same: “Unplug it and plug it back in.” And 99.9% of the time that does that trick!
Unplug it and plug it back in! Perhaps I keep asking, despite anticipating the answer, because it seems too simple to believe. That, in the words of Anne Lamott, spiritual writer and activist: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”
This past summer, I reclaimed the summer break that rabbis traditionally take in July, which I had given up in the intense, non-stop demands of the Covid rabbinate. With the requisite cramming that was necessary in order to leave things in a good place for when I returned, I doubted whether it was worth it. But then after a few days, I unplugged.
And after three weeks of not doing much at all, I literally felt like a different person. The same exact tasks that caused me to feel overwhelmed and overstretched ceased to feel difficult. The resentments that had been building up, creeping up under my skin — they were completely gone. It felt miraculous! Yet, I realized it wasn’t some miracle at all- it was applying my husband’s everyday tech advice in real time — to unplug and plug myself back in.
Rosh HaShanah this year falls on Shabbat, Judaism’s weekly day of unplugging. Whether or not you observe Shabbat in a traditional way or not, Shabbat presents itself as an opportunity to approach life differently — not seeking to gain or acquire or succeed rather to slow down, observe, praise, seek our community and joy. Shabbat is when we move from the world of “doing” to the world of “being.” This kind of opportunity to unplug is not only a good Jewish thing to do, it is a tool for resilience; it is a mental health intervention. It is an antidote for resentment, bitterness and apathy. It is a path towards showing up more fully in your life.
But even more, Shabbat is a mindset. Shabbat = Shavat, which literally means “to rest” or “to pause.” We have the power to pause at any moment, to rest; to cool ourselves off, to take a deep breath and see what is happening in the moment and engage when we are ready. It can mean boundaries around how and when we take in information, whether it is work or the tragedies we see on the news. It means that we guard ourselves from the hubris of thinking we are needed all the time.
The juxtaposition of Rosh HaShanah and Shabbat also offers an invaluable lesson. Rosh HaShanah reminds us that as human beings, we should not settle for things as they are. It is a holiday of striving- doing better, repairing ourselves and our world. Shabbat reminds us that in order to do that holy work, we also need to stop from time to time (ideally once a week!), to pause, and to remember that the work is not on our shoulders alone.
As we continue to do the vital work of repentance and repair, let us remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish, especially when the stakes and demands are high. Let’s know that showing up with a full, open-heart to life is not something that happens automatically — it requires rest. Let’s remember that simple tech advice and know that “almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”