A recent Huffington Post essay caught my eye: "Proof that Boredom Isn't As Bad As Your Parents Told You." (October 22nd).
In her essay, author Carolyn Gregoire wrote: "The constant connectivity of life in the digital age has created a situation in which boredom is a rarity. We are ... constantly receptive to "interestingness" and filling our brains with new information, whether via Twitter, news sites, Instagram or online advertising. Whether we're walking down the street, sitting at home, going to the bathroom (75 percent of Americans use their phones while on the toilet, according to a 2012 study), or sitting in the park, we're often filling our brains with information via smartphones at the same time.
These ceaseless streams of information and entertainment can keep us from ever getting bored or simply doing nothing, and that may not be a good thing....
We tend to cast boredom in a negative light, but it can actually be good for our thinking and our physical health. Daydreaming has been shown to boost creativity, and according to one psychologist, it could even help you to achieve the goals that are most personally meaningful to you. Taking the time to let your mind wander could also lead to unexpected insights."
My thoughts immediately went to Shabbat. When our people first began to set aside one day of rest, we were quite the phenomenon in the ancient world. Before Shabbat became the communal practice of our people, no one had the benefit of a weekly day of rest. Now, of course, at least one weekly day off from work is an almost universal practice.
In the context of our modern, plugged-in, constant-stream-of-information age, though, one traditional aspect of Shabbat observance may be more worth embracing: On Shabbat, traditional Jews (not just Orthodox Jews, but traditional Conservative Jews, too) do not use computers, do not use smartphones, do not watch television. Yes, traditional Jews have been benefitting from a day of restorative, day-dream promoting, mind wandering boredom for millenia.
Several years ago, I participated in a four-day retreat for rabbis run by the Jewish Theological Seminary. We met at Ramah Darom, the Conservative summer camp facility in beautiful, rural Georgia. The first day, 60 Conservative rabbis sat in a big circle, and we went around the room introducing ourselves. I watched as one colleague after another pulled out a cell phone and took in the fact that there was no cell phone reception at the camp. It was almost comical to watch the same progression of expressions cross everyone's face: Perplexity. Disbelief. Horror. Relaxation!
There is liberation of spirit in being incommunicado.
Fortunately, we do not have to journey to the wilds of Georgia to experience that liberation of spirit . . . all we have to do to attain that restorative state of day-dreaming, mind wandering latitude is observe Shabbat. The wisdom and the opportunity have been on our doorstep all along!
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.