In one of my many trips to a nearby Rockport shoe outlet, I was speaking with the sales person about the amount of time a pair of their brand of shoes should last. “One year if you wear them regularly” came the answer. Experience tells me that he was about right, but I did wonder why they couldn’t make an $80 pair of shoes last longer than a year.
Then there were Haggar slacks – I didn’t go to an outlet store to buy them, but I would hear “50 washes” as a common measure of their longevity.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, but the Torah reading for this week, Ekev, makes an incredible claim about the Israelites and their wardrobe: “The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years.” The implication was that their clothing not only remained in excellent condition, but even expanded as Israelite children grew into their adult years. And after all that walking, they weren’t tired at all. They had enough strength to continue on, albeit with a small dose of kvetching. The instances of their complaints as reported in the Torah, compared to the sum total of their years of wandering, were rather few when put into proper perspective.
Unlike the Rockport shoes and Haggar slacks, there was a sense of timelessness connected to the Israelites along their journey. How did they – and their feet and clothing – last for so many years? The rabbis explained, as does the Torah, that it was God who saw to their needs without the need for a shopping spree at the occasional oasis. And what of their ability to remain strong and to rejuvenate themselves?
That is where Shabbat comes in. Ahad Haam, the founder of cultural Zionism, once said, “More than Israel has kept Shabbat has Shabbat kept Israel.” Taking a day, once a week, to rest and renew ourselves does wonders for our fortitude, our patience, and our view of our significant place in the world. A day of rest has the potential to take us back to where we were the week before, and the week before that, in terms of our level of energy and our ability to give the best of our abilities and wisdom. Shabbat can help us make ourselves “good as new,” rather than a little more worn than the week before like those slacks and shoes that have a limited life. The rejuvenation of Shabbat has its greatest effect on our spirit and our emotions, enabling us to feel, in our minds and hearts, that we can transcend time and continue along a path to reach our potential. Jewish thinker Martin Buber once said, “Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique and every man or woman's foremost task is the actualization of his or her unique and unprecedented…possibilities.” No matter where we are along the life cycle, we have new opportunities, every week, to try to make those personal possibilities real. Such an approach to weekly or daily living can keep us young or, at least, ageless, where what matters is not how long we have been on the journey but that we believe that every step of the journey offers us a chance to further discover who we are, and what we can give to the world.
So yes, the shoes change, perhaps the feet swell, and the clothes on the outside may need replacing every so often. Yet, we have the power to preserve what we wear on the inside in “good as new” condition – our hopes, our determination, our commitment, our self-assurance, and our desire to reach for others in friendship and love. Our well maintained internal emotional and spiritual clothing can enable us to keep moving forward with a youthful enthusiasm and exuberance along the way to our own promised land. Shabbat Shalom!