A random, wistful comment by one of the nation’s most successful movie comedians helps illuminate the least noted of all the Ten Commandments – and should suggest some worthy New Year’s resolutions for the rest of us.
A December 10th Parade magazine profile of Ben Stiller, the star of the hugely entertaining new comedy “Night at the Museum,” describes the 41-year-old star’s quiet life with his family. “Ben now lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife, actress Christine Taylor (best known as Marcia in The Brady Bunch movies), their two young children and two dogs,” writes celebrity reporter Robert Masello. “He’s been married for six and a half years and says he can hardly remember the night-owl lifestyle he used to lead. ‘One of my friends will say, ‘Hey, it’s Friday night. What are you doing?’ and I’ll have to stop and think, ‘When was the last time I got excited over a Friday night?’ I asked Christine, and she said that maybe it was in high school.’”
From a Jewish point of view, Stiller’s comment conveys a strange sense of emptiness, a tinge of sadness—since our tradition views Friday night – the Sabbath – as by far the most significant, most “exciting” night of the week. Though he often portrays Jewish characters on screen (even playing a likeable, lovesick rabbi in Leap of Faith), Stiller’s mother (the gifted comedienne Anne Meara) is Irish Catholic and he claims no particular affiliation with the religious tradition of either parent. It’s not surprising that he’d feel no particular compunction to celebrate Friday night as a special occasion with his family, but his implication that weekends at home count as boring and indistinguishable highlights the deeper need for Sabbath commitments.
When it comes to the Ten Commandments, most Americans make some effort to honor most of them – avoiding murder, theft, adultery and false witness wherever possible and even, if they think about, trying to honor parents and to stay away from covetousness. The Sabbath commandment, on the other hand (most often enumerated as number four in the Big Ten) gets scant attention: aside from Seventh Day Adventists, Orthodox Jews and a few other minor denominations, few of us even pause to consider what God expected of us with the instruction “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Exodus, 20:8) or, in the later restatement of the Ten Commandments: “Guard the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Deuteronomy 5:12).