What Jewish Tradition Teaches Us About Rest

by Carter Mateer, a member of our Emerging Leaders Council

How can ancient principles directly apply to the challenges we faced in 2020? Though King Solomon lamented over this, we can take heed because when it comes to the trials of human nature there truly is nothing new under the sun.

The Abrahamic creation story is at danger of being misunderstood by Western audiences. First, because of its familiarity and second, because of a cultural divide in how information is transmitted. In Western culture, we are trained to learn through principles and logic, but in the culture of the East the most valuable way to learn is through storytelling. In particular, the oddities in the stories can point to an important principle the author wants to emphasize.

The curious phrase “[a]nd there was evening, and there was morning” is repeated for each day in the first chapters of Genesis. It is a phrase that our Western eyes might gloss over, but Eastern eyes would question. Why does the day begin in the evening? Following in this pattern, Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, goes from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. We are accustomed to our day beginning in the morning as we wake, check our phones and begin to think of the day’s work. But the Israelites were learning an important lesson that every day begins at night as you go to sleep. It begins with rest.

Check out my interview with Chris Coursey, author of “The Joy Switch” — related to the subject of this piece:



Importantly, when we remember this audience, we realize why this lesson of rest would be embedded into the creation story. Genesis is thought to be written down by Moses and orally told to the newly freed Jewish slaves as they marched from Egypt into what would be the 40-year journey towards the promised land. They had been overworked, abused, and stripped of their identity as a chosen people and now Moses began to remind them of who they were. It is astonishing that the first and most important lesson the Israelites must learn is rest. And with the year we have had, it is one that we too must learn again.

In our pandemic reality many things have changed. Most of us have taken work home with us, the mainstream media dominates the narrative and social media pushes us further into our respective “echo chambers.” The war for our attention is like never before in human history. We are addicted to outrage. Our attention is becoming a commodity — it drives profit for companies and because of that, rest is harder to come by. Your attention is sought after, and it is valuable. For that reason, we have to shift our paradigm of what rest is. Peace is not a passive endeavor — peace must be actively protected. This starts by building habits to unplug from the 24/7 news cycle such as taking a weekly day of rest, setting technology time limits, practicing gratitude or sleeping with your phone away from your bed.

Happiness is the ability to enjoy what you have and that simply cannot be achieved without learning to rest.

December 15, 2020 ELAC