Jews are bidden to “keep the Sabbath.” According to Jewish sources, the Romans found this habit the height of indolence: surely a person should work all seven days a week if they want to get things done. Yet in modern times, Jews are noticed as hard workers, and anti-Semitism is sometimes inspired by the fact that they are so well known for their “success” resulting from their hard work.
Now, I look at it from an interesting vantage point: I was raised a non-Jew and converted to Judaism. What I noticed when I first was around Jews was that even those who were not particularly devout seemed to be very hard working at their jobs. In fact, I felt embarrassed, because as non-Jews went I was only average in my work skills. I remember the rabbi commenting that when he was a young he was a ne’er-do-well. He didn’t want to work so he told his parents he wanted to be a veterinarian. Now, in today’s world being a vet takes more hard work sometimes than being a M.D. So the fact that he “never used it” didn’t make it look like he was lazy in one sense: he had his own farm and knew how to do things like kosher butcher cows. As you can tell, I soon learned that it was not just their religion that people like the rabbi could teach me: I also learned their study and other works skills.
Now, a Jewish religious service for Shabbat (the Sabbath in Hebrew is Shabbat) if it is Orthodox or Conservative is 3 hours long in Hebrew, and afterwards we have lunch with the other Jews. This may not sound very restful, and in a sense it is not, but then you go home and “rest” for the rest of the day. The idea is that you do not change anything about the world. You can study or sleep. You can even have sex (if you are married). But you are not to mow the lawn or play golf or make phone calls. So it is that usually I go home and for the rest of Shabbat (it begins Friday evening and ends Saturday night) sleep.
Now, I will admit a secret: I also “rest” on Sundays. I am not saying that I do nothing that could not be considered work, but I try not to write or do research for those books I write. I do pleasure read, watch TV, and do recreational activities (I could golf on Sunday if I wanted to). I just veg out. I know having a “long Shabbat” seems lazy, but I believe it makes it easier for me to work during the rest of the week.
It is true that the Romans looking at the Jews thought we were a bunch of lazy mashugana (crazy) people. But on the other hand, they used to have circuses with gladiators and chariot racing to keep their own citizens from thinking of revolt. Jews, dedicated to the law, needed a day off from the work in the fields rather than spending the bulk of their time being entertained. Of course, I believe they took one day off–not two.
So since I have written so much about work lately, here is to rest: take one or two days a week, no more, and spend it taking drives, going to the symphony, or watching TV… don’t do anything constructive. That is how God intended it to be for human beings.