Jewish Law, Shabbat, and the World to Come

The rabbinic school of Shammai constructed its version of the Sabbath laws on the basis of the notion that Shabbat is a foretaste of life in the perfect world, yet to come.

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I suggest its origin is in the same aggadic concept to which I have repeatedly referred. The Midrash, in a number of diverse sources, interprets the Sabbath lights as symbolic of the supernal light that once shone in primordial time and which will again appear in the future time. The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 12:6) asserts that, out of consideration for the Sabbath, God caused the sun to shine through that first Friday evening in the Garden of Eden though Adam had, by reason of his disobedience, deserved that he be deprived of that light. Thus, the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 11:2) interprets the verse, "And God blessed the seventh day," with the blessing of light.

When the Midrash asserts that "the light of a man's countenance all the days of the week is not to be compared to the light that his countenance reflects on the Sabbath," the statement takes on meaning if we assume that the reference is to the supernal light which Adam enjoyed through the first Sabbath and of which he was deprived only after the outgoing of the Sabbath. Finally, the Midrash (Yalkut, Be-ha'alotkha, beginning) links the observance with reward in the messianic days, "If you observe the kindling of the Sabbath lights, I will show you the lights of Zion…as it is said, 'The sun shall no more be light for you by days, nor shall the brightness of the moon shine for you, but the Lord shall be your everlasting light.'"

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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).