Biblical Sources on Shabbat and the Perfected World

The Bible itself is the source of the notion that Shabbat is a foretaste of the perfected world that is yet to come.

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Immortality and Longevity

Whether Adam, according to the Garden of Eden story, would have known immortality had he not eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is a point of disagreement among biblical commentators. For reasons whose exposition would take us a bit far afield, I am convinced that the former is the case. Somewhat similarly, man is promised that, in the end of days, he will attain to an extraordinary longevity ("For he who will die at a hundred will be deemed but a youth" [Isaiah 65:20]).

The Appearance of a Supernal Light

The most remarkable feature of the latter time, in the prophetic conception, will be the appearance of a light more refulgent than the sun. "And the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be as the light of seven days" (Isaiah 30:20). It has long since been pointed out that the prophet here alludes to an ancient midrash to the effect that the first seven days of creation were bathed in a supernal light more brilliant than the sun, which was then hidden away after Adam's sin. The prophet would have it that with the coming of the latter time, that supernal light will reappear.

Physical Perfection

One final parallel between primordial time and final time ought to be noted. Repeatedly, the prophets assure us that in the final time all human physical infirmities will vanish. "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf will be opened, the halt shall skip like the ram, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing" (Isaiah 35:5-6). Though Genesis offers no indication of Adam's physical state at the time of his creation, it may be assumed that he who came directly from the hand of God emerged in perfect physical condition, without fault or blemish.

In summary, it may be said that there is hardly an aspect of the prophetic image of the end of days that is not already foreshadowed in the Torah's description of primordial time. The Sabbath is at once the climax of that primordial time and the paradigm of the future time. Therefore, man should so conduct himself on the Sabbath as if the future time were already at hand. It is only on the basis of this aggadic-mythological concept that one can understand the ancient halakhah of the Sabbath. Though many, if not most, of these halakhic views were rejected in the final formulation of the normative halakhah, their very existence points to the biblically-rooted concept which they seek to concretize.

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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).