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Is it Kosher to Walk in The Great Race on Shabbat?

It is rare indeed when a rabbi has a free Shabbat (Sabbath). With 54 B’nai Mitzvah a year, I joyously find myself in the sanctuary almost every Shabbat, being inspired by our young people as they lead services, chant from Torah and teach us about the intersection between Torah and life.

When a Shabbat comes along during which I do not need to be in shul (synagogue), there are five items on my short list that I want to accomplish. Each helps me observe the holiest day of the week.

What this Rabbi Seeks to Do 
on a Shabbat Away from the Shul


First, I try to be out in nature. Our tradition teaches m’lo chol ha’aretz k’vodo – the whole earth is filled with God’s glorious creation. Moreover, God is sometimes called HaMakom – The Place, because every place is where God is. On Shabbat particularly, the day we are called upon to recognize as a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, I want to be out in nature to revel in God’s greatness.

Second, I want to be involved in Tikkun Olam – fixing the world. On Shabbat, rather than acting upon the world, we are invited to sit back, notice and celebrate the blessings of this world. Taking it one step further, many activities which heal this world are by definition opportunities to celebrate and advance the blessings of this world.

Third, I want to be involved with learning. Shabbat is a day of study. Most often we Jewish understand studying as referring to Torah, the repository of God’s wisdom. Yet we know that all knowledge comes from the Holy One and has its roots in Torah. So on Shabbat, I try to learn myself, help others learn, or more generally, support the enterprise of education itself.

Fourth, I try to be with my family and our community. Our sages teach Al tifrosh min hatzibur – do not separate yourself from the community. Shabbat, given as a day of rest, provides us a chance to gather with those closest to us, to celebrate life and its blessings.

Fifth, I recite blessings and prayers to honor the Holy One and celebrate the holiness of the Sabbath day. On Shabbat in the outdoors, I can recite the words of Yotzeir Or (which praises the Maker of Light who is the Creator of All Things), the Shema (which recognizes the Oneness of all Creation), and Oseh Shalom (which asks the One who makes wholeness and peace to help us bring wholeness and peace to the world and everyone in it).

Supporting Local Schools
The Great Race of Agoura Hills was established in 1986 by a group of parents looking to raise money for their children’s elementary schools. Now professionally produced by Endurance Events and in its 28th year, The Great Race of Agoura Hills is one of the largest running events in the Los Angeles area and continues to donate to many schools in Agoura Hills and Oak Park.

The proceeds from The Great Race benefit seven elementary schools in Agoura Hills and Oak Park as well as the athletic programs at Agoura H.S. and Oak Park H.S. In the past, the event has helped to pay for programs that were not funded by the state. However, with huge state budget cuts to education, these schools face financial hardships and must find many more ways to raise more funds to just to maintain their exisiting programming and staffing levels.

Come Walk with Me – and Celebrate Shabbat
So, is it kosher to walk in The Great Race on Shabbat? I say “yes” and therefore, on Saturday, March 23, 2013 – after praying at the synagogue on Friday night – I will be walking in The Great Race of Agoura Hills. In doing so, I will be doing Jewish because I will be:

  • Out in nature, amongst the hills of Agoura
  • Doing Tikkun Olam, as I help support the improvement of our local schools
  • Involved with learning, as I support an event that raises funds for our schools
  • Connecting with community, as with family, I participate in the race and then welcome the community at Congregation Or Ami’s post-race booth. 
  • Reciting blessings, particularly one which praises the Creator of all for bestowing upon me a body which is able to walk distances and recognize the beauty surrounding us.

Whether being outside is as much of a religious experience for you as it is for me (I once wrote that I most often encountered the Holy One in our national parks), I invite you to join me and thousands of others for a run or walk out in nature to change the world by supporting deeper education for all our young people.

Visit the Congregation Or Ami Post-Race Booth
And if you walk, run or just wander around the race area, come by the Congregation Or Ami booth to say hello and Shabbat Shalom (a Sabbath of Peace) and to receive a fun giveaway. You may register for the Great Race of Agoura Hills here.

[Can You Volunteer at our Booth?
BTW,  thanks to Vic Cohen for heading up the booth. If you can volunteer an hour at the booth, please let me know and I will put you in touch with Vic.]

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