Shabbat as Preview of the Perfected World

Rabbinic literature and medieval Kabbalah describe the day as a foretaste of life in the perfected "world to come" that traditional Judaism anticipates.

Print this page Print this page

Its Meaning for Us

If the Sabbath is a foretaste of the world-to-come, we may now ask ourselves: What, given the actualities of modern living, ought the world-to-come be like? Or, to put the matter negatively, what are the conditions from which a man in the 20th century might seek release? Do the essential aspects of the traditional Sabbath offer such release, physical and psychological? The answer to the question entails the construction of an ideology of the Sabbath astonishingly parallel, in a number of respects, to the ancient, traditional aggadah. In its analysis of modern man's condition, the ideology draws on the insights of contemporary sociologists and psychologists. In the response it offers, we draw upon the traditional concept of the Sabbath.

What are the three essential conditions which make for the anxiety, discontent, and unhappiness of modern man? They may be summarized as his consciousness of time, the competitiveness that pervades every sphere of life, and the diminishing pleasure man finds in work.…

On the Sabbath, the observant Jew moves out of secular time into holy time. We know what secular time is--unrelenting speed-up. How fast can we work, how fast can we travel, how fast can we communicate? What is holy time? It is the suspension of our normal awareness of time, the absence of its normal pressure. "A man must enter the Sabbath as if all his work were done" (Mekhilta, Masekhta Ba-Hodesh). "A man must not walk on the Sabbath with hurried gait" (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 113a). These statements drawn from the tradition--they may readily be multiplied--all point to the nature of the sacred time that is the Sabbath. To enter upon it is to know a level of existence that disposes the soul towards the timeless things.

Another phenomenon no less corrosive of joy for modern man is competitiveness.… The Sabbath is the sphere of the non-competitive, for all its emphasis is on man's communion with man and God. It is no accident that traditional Sabbath activities are located in those spheres in which there is no competition, or a very minimum of competition--the family, the circle of friends, the House of Prayer, and the House of Study. At the very least, the Sabbath withdraws us from the world of work, currently termed the "rat-race" or the "game."

A third essential source of modern man's malaise is the area of his work.… From sunset to sunset, the Sabbath withdraws man from the world of work and transfers him to the world of pleasure; from the world of tension to the world of delight; from the world of doing and making to the world of being. It was Marx who said that all philosophies differed only in interpreting the world, while the important thing to do was change it. To which one ought add that it is no less important for man to enjoy it--the world, man, and God. And the two basic Sabbath concepts are oneg (delight) and kavod (the reverential acknowledgement of man and God).

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Theodore Friedman, Ph.D. (1908-1992), served for many years as rabbi of congregations in Jackson Heights, New York, and South Orange, New Jersey. He later lived in Jerusalem, where he taught Talmud to students from the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano (Buenos Aires).