Shabbat Themes and Theology

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Jewish tradition continued to expand and embellish these theological themes of Shabbat. In late antiquity, according to the Talmud, the rabbis used to dress in white garments, as a bridegroom, and walk out among the hills calling, "Come my Beloved, let us greet the Shabbat bride!" This is the basis for the liturgical poem Lecha Dodi ("come my beloved") sung as part of Friday night services, a composition that emerged out of the kabbalistic or Jewish mystical tradition. In Jewish mysticism, the theme of Shabbat as the "Sabbath bride" further developed, and Shabbat is also associated with the feminine tangible presence of God, called the Shekhinah, or "in-dwelling," of God. Shabbat was thought of as a day of mystical union between the Jewish people and God. Reflecting the intimacy of this spiritual union, some medieval Jewish mystical texts speak of Shabbat as an especially propitious day for a husband and wife to be intimate with each other, as a symbolic union of God and the Jewish people.

The great 20th-century Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his influential work The Sabbath, poetically articulates the notion of Shabbat as "a cathedral in time"--a "place" in time rather than space in which we develop the practices of sacred rest, and focus on being in the world rather than transforming it.

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