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Commas and Shabbat

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

When Jessie was pregnant with Helena, we had a baby shower for her.  Cards were passed out, and among the questions was, “I hope that you always remember, fill in the blank.”  What is it that you hope that a child would always remember?  That they are special?  That they are loved?  That they are blessed?  Sarah wrote on the card for Helena, “I hope that you always remember to use an Oxford comma!”

Grammar and punctuation is a lost art.  I read a lot of students’ draft divrei Torah, and I am here to say kaddish for the comma, not to mention the semi-colon, colon, and dash.  It’s all one big, long never-ending sentence, without even paragraphs to define the flow of ideas, COMMA, with never a comma in sight!

I’m not sure why this is?  It feels like a consequence of the accelerated pace of life in general and communication in particular.  With all the rushing around, it is hard to stop and breathe and be present in the moment.  A comma, a semi-colon, a colon, a dash- each one of these, in their own way, invites us to stop for the briefest moment and consider what has come before and how it connects to what is yet to be.  These elements of grammar represent a kind of mindfulness.

I’m starting to think of Shabbat as the comma in our lives, the time that we pause and reflect before we move forward mindlessly. Shabbat as the time we focus on gratitude and caring for ourselves and others, Shabbat as the time when we remind ourselves of the universality of human needs and the need for empathy, for kindness.

Take a moment to think about your life at the moment.  Are you barreling ahead, never fully present but always striving to get two steps ahead?  Where can you insert a comma, a semi-colon, a colon, or a dash?

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