Sunday, February 6, 2011

Susannah Heschel on Abraham and The Sabbath

In the preface to Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath, his daughter, Susannah writes the following words:

My father defines Judaism as a religion centrally concerned with holiness in time. Some religions build great cathedrals or temples, but Judaism constructs the Sabbath as an architecture of time. . . . Sanctifying the Sabbath is part of our imitation of God, but it also becomes a way to find God’s presence. It is not in space but in time, he writes, that we find God's likeness. In the Bible, no thing or place is holy by itself; not even the Promised Land is called holy. While the holiness of the land and of festivals depends on the actions of the Jewish people, who have to sanctify them, the holiness of the Sabbath, he writes, preceded the holiness of Israel. Even if people fail to observe the Sabbath, it remains holy. (page xiii)

How do we bring about the elusive atmosphere that is the Sabbath? Sanctity is a quality, my father emphasized, that we create. We know what to do with space, but how do we shape sacred time? Six days a week we live with a fury of acquisitiveness, he writes; Shabbat renews the soul and we rediscover who we are. "The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man." God is not in things of space, but in moments of time. How do we perceive God's presence? There are some helpful Sabbath laws—those that re¬quire shutting off secular demands and refraining from work. In enumerating the categories that constitute "work," the Mishnah describes types of activities necessary to build technological civilization. Yet my father goes further. Not only is it forbidden to light a fire on the Sabbath, but, he writes, "Ye shall kindle no fire—not even the fire of righteous indignation." In our home, certain topics were avoided on the Sabbath—politics, the Holocaust, the war in Vietnam—while others were emphasized. Observing the Sabbath is not only about refraining from work, but about creating menuha, [rest] a restfulness that is also a celebration. The Sabbath is a day for body as well as soul It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath, a lesson my father often repeated and always observed. (page xiv).

1 comment:

  1. So, essentially, Shabbat is about celebration. We celebrate God's presence, Relationships, and Life. Sabbath, since it is holy, is primarily concerned about God. Sabbath is practicing the presence of God as Brother Lawrence wrote. In other words, Sabbath is about living in the world on God's terms, reflecting Him to those around us. Good article.