Saying Yes, Saying No


This past Monday night, I sat in a circle with my 9th and 10th grade students. I asked them to give me an example of a way in which Judaism encourages us to take care of ourselves. They sat, thoughtfully, unsure of how to answer my question. I then asked, “How do you know that it is important to rest and recharge ourselves, at least once a week?” “SHABBAT!” They cried out. We discussed how lucky we are to be members of a tradition that not only values self-care, but also commands us to take a break once a week.

We started to think creatively about what activities most recharge us; I told them that they couldn’t answer, “sleep.” My students mentioned reading, listening to music, going for a walk, taking a hot shower, bowling, drinking a cup of tea, or even watching television. After making promises to add a sense of holiness to these mundane activities by deliberating doing them on Shabbat, we concluded our class session with a fifteen minute-long guided meditation experience, and they left feeling relaxed, calmer, and renewed.

These students are so young, yet they are already over-programmed and stressed out by school, commitments, and extra-curricular activities. Nonetheless, as our discussion progressed, they realized that they have so many of the tools for self-care already at their disposal. They just haven’t necessarily learned how to say “no” to overextending themselves, nor how to say “yes” to taking care of their minds, bodies, and souls.

Which leads me to wonder: how many of us Jewish adults know how to give ourselves a true Shabbat, a day of rest, a day to recharge, and a day to reconnect with our divine nature?

It is almost deceptively easy to do so – just start by setting aside time on Friday night or Saturday to do a favorite activity, just like the students were listing. A wonderful new organization, Positive Jewish Living (, has been making great strides in this area. I always look forward to their Facebook posts throughout the week, many of which are beautiful reminders to breathe, to appreciate the moment, and to be grateful for our blessings. They’ve recently published an inspiring book called Seven Sparks, which teaches ways that we can lift our spirits, find balance, and surround ourselves with people whose “Divine light burns brightly.”

As a self-confessed “recovering perfectionist,” it is all too easy for me to over-commit myself, or to think that a week filled with 12-13 hour days is normal. Many of us in our society are like this: overachievers, people-pleasers, workaholics. We can run, run, run… and we only stop when our bodies rebel and we get sick, burnt out, or worse.

Thus, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about when we say “yes,” and when we say “no.” Perhaps, given the model of Shabbat, this Day of Rest can inspire us to say “no” to working too hard, and to say “yes” to Shabbat. We can even take it to the next level – saying, “Yes, And…” What do I mean by this?

Well, over the past two years, I’ve been taking classes in Improvisation and have been part of an Improv Theater Troupe. Oh, the fun! I strongly recommend studying Improv to anyone who needs more of a sense of play in their lives. One of the first things you learn when you study Improv is the rule of “Yes, And.”
When you are making up a scene with your partner on stage, you have no idea what either one of you will offer as a character, place, or situation. When your scene partner offers something, it is your job to say YES. For instance, the scene would immediately die if one person said, “Welcome to the Rodeo, Cowboy!” but then the scene partner said, “This isn’t a rodeo, it’s a suburban mall.” Rather, the scene partner should say YES to the offer about the rodeo.

But, the rule isn’t just YES, it is YES, AND. You could just answer, “It’s good to be here at the Rodeo.” And then there is nowhere to go in the scene.

Therefore, you add “AND” so that you can build on the idea: “It’s good to be here at the Rodeo, AND I am ready to seek vengeance on my old adversary, Wild Chayim Chuckstein.” Now, the scene is really moving forward, and you want to know what’s going to happen when the rivals face off!

So, I hope you’ll think about saying “yes” to Shabbat, and then maybe even saying “Yes, And.” I want to create more of a deliberate feeling of Shabbat in my life each week, AND I want to add to it over time. I want to be sure that the activities I schedule for Friday night and Saturday are those that enrich my heart and soul, AND I want to encourage others to join me in that special place. I want to make self-care a priority, AND I want to stand by my commitment to do so. And may we all find our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls reaching an ever-higher level of peace, health, and connection.