To observe the Sabbath is to celebrate the coronation of a day in the spiritual wonderland of time, the air of which we inhale when we "call it a delight."
Call the Sabbath a delight: a delight to the soul and a delight to the body. Since there are so many acts which one must abstain from doing on the seventh day, "you might think I have given you the Sabbath for your displeasure; I have surely given you the Sabbath for your pleasure." To sanctify the seventh day does not mean: Thou shalt mortify thyself, but on the contrary: Thou shalt sanctify it with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy senses. "Sanctify the Sabbath by choice meals, by beautiful garments; delight your soul with pleasure and I will reward you for this very pleasure" ("Deuteronomy Rabba" 3:1).
Unlike the Day of Atonement, the Sabbath is not dedicated exclusively to spiritual goals. It is a day of the soul as well as of the body; comfort and pleasure are an integral part of the Sabbath observance. Man in his entirety all his faculties must share its blessing.
A prince was once sent into captivity and compelled to live anonymously among rude and illiterate people. Years passed by, and he languished with longing for his royal father, for his native land. One day a secret communication reached him in which his father promised to bring him back to the palace, urging him not to unlearn his princely manner. Great was the joy of the prince, and he was eager to celebrate the day. But no one is able to celebrate alone. So he invited the people to the local tavern and ordered ample food and drinks for all of them. It was a sumptuous feast, and they were rejoicing; the people because of the drinks and the prince in anticipation of his return to the palace. The soul cannot celebrate alone, so the body must be invited to partake in the rejoicing of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is a reminder of the two worlds--this world and the world to come; it is an example of both worlds. For the Sabbath is joy, holiness, and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come.
To observe the seventh day does not mean merely to obey or to conform to the strictness of a divine commandment. To observe is to celebrate the creation of the world and to create the seventh day all over again, the majesty of holiness in time, a day of rest, a day of freedom, a day which is like a lord and king of all other days, a lord and king in the commonwealth of time.
How should we weigh the difference between the Sabbath and the other days of the week? When a day like Wednesday arrives, the hours are blank, and unless we lend significance to them, they remain without character. The hours of the seventh day are significant in themselves; their significance and beauty do not depend on any work, profit, or progress we may achieve. They have the beauty of grandeur.
Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered. Then we arrive at the seventh day, and the Sabbath is endowed with a felicity which enraptures the soul, which glides into our thoughts with a healing sympathy. It is a day on which hours do not oust one another. It is a day that can soothe all sadness away.
No one, even the unlearned, the cured man, can remain insensitive to its beauty. Even the unlearned is in awe of the day. It is virtually impossible, the ancient rabbis believed, to tell a lie on the sacred Sabbath day.
What does the word "Sabbath" mean? According to some, it is the name of the Holy One. Since the word "Shabbat" is a name of God, one should not mention it in unclean places, where words of Torah should not be spoken. Some people were careful not to take it in vain.
The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere.
It is not a different state of consciousness but a different climate; it is as if the appearance of all things somehow changed. The primary awareness is one of our being within the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath being within us. We may not know whether our understanding is correct, or whether our sentiments are noble, but the air of the day surrounds us like spring, which spreads over the land without our aid or notice.
"How precious is the Feast of Booths [during which Jews dwell in temporary huts for a week]! Dwelling in the Booth, even our body is surrounded by the sanctity of the mitzvah [commandment]," said a rabbi to his friend. Whereupon the latter remarked: "The Sabbath Day is even more than that. On the Feast, you may leave the Booth for a while, whereas the Sabbath surrounds you wherever you go."
The difference between the Sabbath and all other days is not to be noticed in the physical structure of things, in their spatial dimension.Things do not change on that day. There is only a difference in the dimension of time, in the relation of the universe to God. The Sabbath preceded creation and the Sabbath completed creation; it is all of the spirit that the world can bear.
Excerpt from "A Palace in Time" from "The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man," by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Copyright 1951 by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Copyright renewed 1979 by Sylvia Heschel. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. Users are warned that this owrk is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.