Abraham Heschel’s The Sabbath: The Significance of the Sabbath in Judaism Essay

Abraham Heschel’s The Sabbath discusses the significance of the Sabbath in Judaism. The main point of the text is that Judaism is more about sacred time than sacred space. The Sabbath is a perfect example of how time is meant to be set-aside in Judaism to reflect on creation and the blessings of the world provided by God. Because the time is sacred, many behaviors and tasks that may be part of every day life are not to be performed on this sacred day.

For instance, working is not permitted on the Sabbath or even discussing work-related topics. Discussion of any topic that has to do with worldly things is frowned upon on the Sabbath. This is so because discussing these things, or working, take attention away from the reverence of the day. The Sabbath is meant for peaceful reflection on what is sacred and holy regarding creation and life. Heschel says, “We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things” (6).

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That is to say, it is not the things we have, say or do that make the Sabbath holy but the Sabbath, being holy, gives significance to the things we have, say or do. Therefore, we must make these things are worthy of being had, said, or done on the Sabbath. Food preparation rules on Shabbat reflect this idea of maintaining focus on the “holiness in time” of the Sabbath (10). Rules such as the prohibition of using electric appliances or squeezing fruit juice may seem tedious and inconsequential but they are organized ways of ensuring attention is not taken away from the sacred time.

Things cannot be done the same way they are done on other days of the week because the Sabbath is not to be treated as any other day. It is completely different and therefore, things must be done completely differently. Conversely, one could argue that taking the time to remember all the food rules and ensure all rules are being followed takes away from the peaceful reflection meant to take place on the Sabbath. If one has to concern her self with how to cut the salad or warm the food, then she is not giving her full attention and devotion to the sacred time of Sabbath.

I feel this is a legitimate concern, however, I agree that if the Sabbath is a holy day unlike the other days in the week, then everything must be done differently on the Sabbath to reflect this. Taking the effort to do things differently on the Sabbath makes the person remember that the day is holy and adds to the reflection. Following the special rules keeps active in the person’s mind all day that today is Sabbath; today is holy. If the person stops before making coffee to consider the best preparation in respect of the Sabbath, the rules just lended themselves to keeping the Sabbath holy in that person’s mind.

It is not enough to say and feel the Sabbath is a day unlike the others and is meant to be holy. The actions must correspond with the thoughts and feelings to truly show significance. Heschel declares, “perfect rest is an art” (14). Though it may seem following the many rules of Shabbat take away from the rest, upon further consideration it is clear how the rules aid in the “love of the Sabbath” (15). These rules keep the mind and heart actively focused on keeping the Sabbath holy and respecting the blessings of God.

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