A love affair with the Sabbath

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (1951; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).

A classic this, first published in 1951, and still well worth a read. It’s a passionate account by a well-known Jewish scholar of his love for the Sabbath. For Heschel the Sabbath is a day where the goal is not to have but simply to be; it’s a Cathedral in time, a day when we don’t dominate the world, a day for the sake of life, not an interlude but the climax of living, an opportunity to mend our tattered lives, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day of armistice in our cruel struggle for existence, the exodus from tension; it teaches all beings whom to praise.

The Sabbath is an ascent to the summit. It gives us the opportunity to sanctify time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity.

It’s such an important day for Heschel because our ‘inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people’. This the Sabbath teaches us to achieve.

Judaism tries to foster the vision of life as a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the longing for the Sabbath all days of the week which is a form of longing for the eternal Sabbath all the days of our lives. It seeks to displace the coveting of things in space for coveting the things in time, teaching [us] to covet the seventh day all days of the week.

Heschel concludes the account of his love affair with the Sabbath, pointing out that ‘there are few ideas in the world of thought which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath’.

Over sixty years old, this is still an important book (perhaps even more so now than when it first appeared) and a wonderful account of the importance and joys of the Sabbath.

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