I’ve recently begun to take an interest in NASCAR. I was invited to my first race by a season ticket holding fan, and while it was certainly entertaining, I missed out on a lot of the experience because I didn’t understand what I was watching. Over race weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Sparta Kentucky was the third largest city in the state. There must be something deeper to draw a capacity crowd of 107,000 people than 43 cars with poor gas mileage driving 500 circles to the left. Always on a quest for knowledge, I immersed myself in the NASCAR culture.
I learned a lot! I learned about the intense loyalty between drivers and their owners, and between fans and their drivers. I learned about the physics and engineering that goes into every detail of motorsports, from the track surface to the inner workings of the car’s components. I learned the rules, the rivalries, and the techniques used in racing. The more I understood, the more I was able to enjoy what I saw. The desire to understand made all the difference.
One technique arrested my particular attention. These drivers slide through corners banked as high as 30 degrees as close to 200mph as possible. To drive the fastest route, a driver will choose several visual points of reference and attempt to drive through them each time he (or she) goes around the track. This is called “hitting points”.
Life is anything but simple, and the older you get, the faster the laps of your years seem to go by. Day in and week out, we rush from place to place, trying to experience as much as possible, trying to keep up with perceived expectations. We run our bodies and our souls harder, faster, and longer than any NASCAR race.
God, in God’s infinite wisdom, knew how difficult we’d make things for ourselves. At the beginning of every year, NASCAR hands out rule books. If you are affiliated with a racing team in any way, it is your job to study and know the contents of that book. While racers get a fresh set of guidelines every year, God’s rule book has been the same since Sinai. In fact, not only does the Torah outline how to handle hazardous conditions, who to choose as crew members, and the way to spiritual victory, God wrote a built-in hitting point for every lap we take.
Hitting points can change under way if a driver feels he’s not running his best route. God’s hitting point is certain: Shabbat. The Sabbath is the point to which we look each and every week, the space in time for us to commune with the Divine within and around us, an opportunity for us to find our center. If we aim for the peace of Shabbat each week, and carry the beauty of Shabbat forward as we leave that blessed day behind, we cannot fail to take the best possible course through life.
In his books The Sabbath and God in Search of Man, Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
“The seventh day is…a truce in all conflicts, personal and social….the exodus from tension….
To celebrate the Sabbath is to experience one’s ultimate independence of…achievement and anxiety.
The Sabbath is holiness in time. The presence of eternity, a moment of majesty, the radiance of joy. Man does not stand alone, he lives in the presence of the day.”
Shabbat is God’s best gift to us, God’s easily distracted children. This day of rest, this hitting point is not something we have to do. It is something we get to enjoy, every week. I hunger for Shabbat. I feel it coming with the same intensity and excitement as wait for my best friend after a long separation. Each week I sit in the sanctuary and watch the light in the window fade. My soul cheers when the sun sinks low. Shabbat is here – MY Shabbat. I can let go.
On page 63 of Mishkan T’filah we read:
“Let us stop the wheels of every day to be aware of Shabbat.
Find the stillness of the sanctuary which the soul cherished.
We need a quiet space to test the balance of our days,
The weight of our own deeds
Against the heaviness of the world’s demands.
The balance is precarious – steady us with faith:
Quiet places and stillness –
Where will hear our own best impulses speak,
From which we reach out to each other.”
It doesn’t matter what happens during the week. When you head for Shabbat services, take your watch off and let it go. The Sabbath is your refuge. Within the timeless borders from sundown to sundown, you can turn away from the world and feel the love and comfort of your Creator, as a child with a loving parent. Shabbat is not for the world. It is for you.
Ma yafeh hayom. Shabbat Shalom.