Shabbat: A Hasidic View

For one Hasidic master, Shabbat is not the weekend, but the sacred center of the week, which illuminates the days before and after.

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Rabbi Zvi Elimelekh of Dinow (1783-1841), a student of the famous “Seer of Lublin” and a prolific author, presents a view of Shabbat in his book B’nai Yissachar that draws on a body of Hasidic teachings that by his time was already broad and widely disseminated. Those teachings draw extensively on Kabbalistic sources for their concepts and language. Excerpted with permission from “Sabbath: A Hassidic Dimension,” in Perspectives on Jews and Judaism: Essays in Honor of Wolfe Kelman, ed. Arthur A. Chiel, pp. 335-353 © Rabbinical Assembly, 1978.

Shabbat Lights Up Our Week

In [B’nai Yissachar], [Rabbi Zvi Elimelekh] tries to show how every day of the year could be illuminated by the light shining from the various sanctuaries of time that dot the Jewish calendar. At the top of all the high points in time stands the holy Sabbath -- the queen of all times.

hasidic kidThe basic unit of time is the seven-day week. The Sabbath, according to the Zohar -- which is perhaps the main foundation of Hasidic thinking -- does not stand at the “weekend” nor even as the “week head” -- but rather at the center of the week, like the central stem of a seven-branch menorah, with the three weekdays Wednesday-Thursday-Friday on its right, and the three days Sunday-Monday-Tuesday on its left [following the Hebrew order right-to-left], all drawing their sustenance from the center of the week, from Sabbath. The first version of the Ten Commandments reads: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy;” the second version reads: “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” In the first half of the week, on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, we remember the Sabbath that has gone by, and on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, we observe, look out, and wait for the Sabbath that is to come. It is only through Sabbath that we can survive the week looming between the Two Sabbaths.

The often-quoted saying of the Zohar in Hasidic literature, that Shabbat is one of the Names of God, plays a central role in his thinking. One does not use God’s Name easily, “and I know of those who are meticulous in their behavior, that they are very careful not to utter the words Shabbat needlessly. And it is correct to do so.” Just as there are unclean places where one is not allowed to read from the Torah, so one is not permitted to pronounce the word Shabbat in those places.

A Day for Harmony , the Summit of Life

By the same token, Sabbath represents perfectness. In Jewish mysticism the world is seen as broken and fragmented. It is “in exile” in no less than three dimensions: in space, time, and soul. The human soul is split, and parts of it are destined to bitter exile except on Sabbath, when the exiled splinters of the human personality can be gathered together in peace.

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Rabbi Pinchas Peli

Rabbi Pinchas Hakohen Peli (1930-1989) was a professor of Jewish thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His books in English include Torah Today and The Jewish Sabbath: A Renewed Encounter.