Celebrating Rest

by Jamie Bornstein

Each night Carrie and I settle into our familiar routine. Dinner, kid bedtime, clean up dinner, adult parallel play (each of us sitting on the couch with our laptops catching up on work), Seinfeld at 11 pm, and sleep.

Ours is a story familiar to many full-time working couples (with the exception that my wife works full-time for a mikveh…who does that?). On the whole, we are very hard working and productive people.

Sometimes, though, I veer from this routine and opt for plan B: whiskey on the rocks, dinner, kid bedtime, TV, bed. And I feel a bit guilty. I feel…complacent, as if I wasted an irreplaceable amount of potentially productive time.

I experience a distinct tension between the inclination to produce and the inclination to relax; between drive and complacency. It’s territory fraught with guilt.

It occurred to me recently that this same tension is embedded within Jewish ritual life, with one major difference. No guilt.

Shabbat marks a period of rest between periods of productivity.

Rosh Chodesh marks the period when the moon reemerges from “rest,” when it was briefly not visible in the night sky.

And niddah marks a woman’s period of reproductive rest (i.e. her period of menstruation).

In each case we ritually celebrate these moments of rest and affirm their necessary place in the cycle of life. They are not treated as periods of missed opportunities, rather they are themselves opportunities for reflection and renewal.

In each case, interestingly, we also have traditions of mikveh usage.

Mikveh is Judaism’s response to periods of transition between rest and productivity, between the old and the new, and between death and life. It recognizes that while moments of transition are fraught, they are also opportunities for new beginnings. There is no more visceral ritual expression of renewal than immersing fully naked in the mikveh and emerging from the water as if from the womb.

While I still must contend on a daily basis with my struggle between producing and relaxing, I can do so knowing that if moderated, my inclination to relax can itself be an important element of renewal.

Jamie Bornstein is the Assistant Director in North America of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. He holds an MBA from Boston University and is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship. Jamie is married to Carrie Bornstein, Acting Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim.

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