For a number of years, I went through life without wearing a wristwatch, except as a decorative accessory on the rare occasion we went out to a classy affair. It wasn’t hard to get to that point: I was not comfortable with metal bands (concern about them catching my wrist hairs and a mild aversion to the aesthetics), and the sweat factor over a couple of summers didn’t make me happy about leather or fabric bands.
At some point, maybe when we got a car with air conditioning, I started wearing watches again. But not on Shabbat! Shabbat was my day off from the tyranny of time. If I really needed to know, someone nearby had the time, or a clock was generally within view. However, I was free, free of the compulsion to often check the time, to remind myself of the date, or to see how short or long was a couple of seconds. Taking off my watch (and winding it so it would still be running Sunday morning; yes, I like analog watches that “tick”) was one of the rituals through which I prepared for Shabbat.
Then, some three years ago, I became acutely aware of my time-bound responsibilities. Unlike the decades during which I had been self-employed and had few regular time-sensitive obligations, stepping into the rabbinate meant taking a new view of time.
Even though it was nearly impossible to not know the time — it was on every phone and computer screen and on nearly every electronic appliance, not to mention the designer clocks that often were part of office decor — I became acutely aware that we needed to start and end on time, be it a meeting, a service or an event.
I reasoned that 12 people are at a meeting that begins five minutes late, collectively, they’ve an hour of time. The challenge of beginning a daily service without a minyan has made me bend a bit, but I strive to begin on time and end when whatever it is should end.
And on Shabbat, I now wear a watch. About a year ago, I got my first metal-banded, battery-powered watch; I wear it nearly every day. On Shabbat, however, I wear my first “adult” watch, a mechanical, wind-up with a simple face and a sweep second hand.
This is my gesture of separating ordinary weekday time from the sacred Shabbat time as I am suiting up for work, as it were. I am using a profane tool on a sacred day, but, in good rabbinic tradition, I am doing it with a “shinui,” a difference.
Try to honor the sanctity of Shabbat time by doing the everyday things you need to do on Shabbat just a little differently, even if the only change is that you are mindful that it is Shabbat.