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Black Friday and the Importance of Sabbath Rest

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With shoppers lining up for Black Friday earlier and earlier in recent years, the more appropriate name for retailers' biggest sales day might be Black Is The Color Of The Sky You Will Stand Outside Under In The Middle Of The Night.

But not everyone enjoys the earlier shopping opportunities. Frustrated by the annually receding start times, a Target employee recently launched a Change.org petition asking the company to move up its Thursday-at-midnight opening so that employees could enjoy their Thanksgiving holiday. Those who work at Best Buy launched a similar campaign, and one New Jersey resident inaugurated a Respect the Bird drive, in which individuals can sign a pledge "to not let Black Friday shopping gobble up my Thanksgiving."

Yet I can't help but wonder whether Respect the Bird might be more appropriately titled Respect the Sabbath.

Let me explain.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, travelers frantically comb stores for travel-sized liquids and pint-plastic bags. They haggle their way through airport security, clutch their seats and beg for their lives when turbulence strikes, feel their blood pressure rise when they get stuck in traffic, and get heartburn from too many fast food meals on the road. Hosts and hostesses stock their kitchens with the makings of green bean casserole, marshmallowed sweet potatoes, stuffing and the prized turkey. They set their alarm clocks to put the bird in the oven; they make schedules to accommodate the heating of side dishes; they rally their children to decorate the house or to not destroy decorations already hung; they vacuum, dust, organize the playroom, wipe the sweat off their brow and somehow fit in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. After the last guest leaves, they scrape dishes, Swiffer the floor, perform complicated mathematical equations on the refrigerator that enable them to fit in all the leftovers, and collapse in bed for an hour only to rise again and to begin shopping for the next celebration.

Holidays make us tired, and that's why Sabbath is so important.

In the Christian and Jewish traditions, the Sabbath originated at creation. The first chapter of Genesis states that, over a seven-day period, God formed the heavens and earth out of a formless void. Day one brought light. On day two, God separated water and sky. Day three yielded dry land and plants. During day four, God fashioned stars, sun and moon. On day five, animals came into being, and on day six, humankind. Pleased with these accomplishments, God called them good. And then, on day seven, God took the first Sabbath rest, time away from work when rejuvenation could occur. That concept of the Sabbath -- or, in Hebrew, Shabbat -- became so central to living a healthy life that God codified it in the Ten Commandments with the words:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work -- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Since the time those biblical words were penned, the Sabbath has become a cornerstone of Judaism and Christianity. Observed on Saturday in the former tradition and Sunday in the latter, the Sabbath has traditionally been a day of rest and worship, and continues to be held as such by many. In Israel, for instance, most stores close on the Sabbath, including drugstores and supermarkets. Likewise, 50 years ago in the United States, businesses were not open on Sunday out of respect for the Sabbath.

Yet, as the culture in America has become increasingly consumerist, a new worldview has overtaken the one that honors the Sabbath. In that worldview, rest is anachronistic. Sunday is business as usual: Tellers open banks, businessmen strike deals by email, students labor over homework. We are too busy to rest, we say; we don't have time to rejuvenate after setting the table, carving the turkey and cleaning when the last guest leaves.

What all this filters down to is that the increasing intensity of Black Friday -- or rather, Black Midnight Thursday -- is merely the latest manifestation of the way in which our culture dilutes the Sabbath and the need for rest in the name of increasing productivity and quenching consumerist thirst. Even though Black Friday is not on a Saturday or Sunday, it follows a period of heightened work and stress; it's a natural time for rest, and yet, it's a time in which rest is not encouraged.

One at a time, we can change this culture. As God's children, it is our responsibility to find that rest for ourselves because without it, regardless of religious affiliation, we will psychologically dry up like turkey left too long in the oven.

We are all called to do our best work this holiday season. But after you fit the last Tupperware of stuffing into that over-packed refrigerator, take a look at what you accomplished, call it good, then lie on the couch and greet your Sabbath.

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