The rabbis spend a lot of time on today’s daf with numbers.They list the six things that cure a person of illness (cabbage and beets among them), and the ten things that cause a relapse (including eating fatty meat and shaving). They list three things that bring a person comfort (voice, sight and smell), and three things that ease the mind (a beautiful home, a beautiful wife, and beautiful utensils).
In the middle of all this, the Gemara offers this teaching:
There are five matters in our world which are one-sixtieth of their most extreme manifestations. They are: Fire, honey, Shabbat, sleep, and a dream. The Gemara elaborates: Our fire is one-sixtieth of the fire of Gehenna; honey is one-sixtieth of manna; Shabbat is one-sixtieth of the World to Come; sleep is one-sixtieth of death; and a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy.
The 1/60 fraction may be best known from the laws of keeping kosher. There’s a principle in Jewish law that if a non-kosher food item mistakenly falls into a kosher dish, there’s no issue with eating it so long as the non-kosher food amounts to less than 1/60 of the total.
Here the rabbis are talking about 1/60 in the context of things that gives us a foretaste of larger things — one of which is Shabbat, which offers a small taste of the World to Come. In Jewish thought, the world to come can refer to the afterlife, or to the end times when the world will be perfected and free of suffering.
We often hear this teaching used to describe the myriad ways Shabbat allows us to live differently: spending extended time with those we love, eating delicious meals, singing — all things that bring great pleasure and delight, enabling us to experience a bit of the world to come on a weekly basis. Yet in describing Shabbat as 1/60 of the world to come, the rabbis also seem to be saying that our experience of Shabbat cannot even compare to the enormity of the experience of the world to come.
So what might it mean to inhabit a Shabbat that enables us to experience even a tiny sense of the world to come?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously taught that Shabbat is a palace in time, a day in which we can revel in both worldly and spiritual delights. Whether we believe in the literal truth of a world to come or not, we can all imagine Shabbat as a time to choose serenity and joy. And in a world in which so many of us are constantly distracted, pulled in a million directions, and not present to the ones we love in the ways we’d like to be, experiencing Shabbat in this way can be quite the gift.
Whether we mark Shabbat every week or only occasionally, and whether we do so in the traditional manner with food and prayer or in our own unique way, the Gemara here is suggesting than by inhabiting this palace in time, we can all experience the ease and freedom of a perfected world, a world (we hope) to come.