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Why August is religiously august

By Rabbi Deborah Blausten, FRS

It’s that time of the year when the bulk of email replies in my inbox seems to come from the same person, or rather the same feature, the out-of-office auto-responder. August is a month where work has a different pace, fewer people are in offices, responses are slower, there are not enough people around to hold regular meetings, tube trains are emptier, and the city has a different rhythm. 

The pace of everyday life is difficult to slow down, especially when the world around you continues to move at speed. It’s one of the reasons people often tell me they both struggle with and also value the structure and rest of Shabbat. Shabbat provides a framework that tries to assert itself against the pressures of modern life. You have to take a break, Shabbat isn’t interested in that email you haven’t sent yet, its demand that you cease from work is clear. 

Despite this call, the reality of contemporary Jewish life is that many people struggle to carve out this weekly time. Shabbat is counter cultural. The world moves quickly, life pressures compete with our religious and personal aspirations, and taking a weekly break is something that can feel like a dream rather than an accessible reality. 

Then the summer comes along, and the social flow shifts, making it easier to imagine taking a step back. When some people take a break, it makes it more possible for others to imagine taking time for themselves too. It can remind all of us of the role that we play in supporting our friends, family, and colleagues to set boundaries and create space for family life and rest alongside work. 

I love that our high holy day period comes on the back of the summer, and that Elul, the month of reflection and contemplation begins this week in the heart of August, in the heart of this time of relative calm. It’s a huge opportunity to take back some time for ourselves and to begin the work of ‘cheshbon hanefesh’, accounting the soul, that helps us prepare for a new year. 

If you’re someone who struggles to make time for a weekly reset, this time of year offers an opportunity to claim some of that personal and emotional space back in lieu. It’s also a reminder that when we take the time and rest we are entitled to, it isn’t just a gift to ourselves but to others as well.

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