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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Heschel's "The Sabbath"

Earlier I planned to write about "The Sabbath" by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a book my rabbi gave me years ago.

For the observant, keeping the Sabbath can be a burden. There are countless prohibitions, some of which - like not pushing a stroller or a wheelchair outside the home - seem perverse. (Read here about how Los Angeles is being turned into one giant "home" via an eruv, a wall made of heavy fishing line, strung around 80 square miles.)

Reform Jews - and extremely reform Jews - have to decide how far to go in honoring the commandment to rest on the seventh day. Myself, I've been thinking about it for fifteen years.

Thinking, for instance, about staying off the computer on Saturday! Here's an article about whether it's ok to use a computer on Sabbath, but it's so complicated I don't understand the answer. I'm sure the answer is no. Yet here I am, blogging...

Anyway, for some inspiration, here's Heschel, who wrote in the days of "non-inclusive" language.

To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar ... a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle ...

The solution of mankind's most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence from it.

In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude - to have them and to be able to do without them. ... Man's royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.

Technical civilization is man's conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence.

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.

Nothing is more useful than power, nothing more frightful. We have often suffered from degradation through power. There is happiness in the love of labor, there is misery in the love of gain. Many hearts and pitchers are broken at the fountain of profit. Selling himself into slavery to things, man becomes a utensil that is broken at the fountain.

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.

The words: "On the seventh day God finished His work" seem to be a puzzle. Is it not said: "He rested on the seventh day"? ... "What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose [menuha]."

It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust. The essence of good life is menuha.

All week we may ponder and worry whether we are rich or poor, whether we succeed or fail in our occupations; whether we accomplish or fall short of reaching our goals. But who could feel distressed when gazing at spectral glimpses of eternity, except to feel startled at the vanity of being so distressed?

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At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like starting my Sabbath day with a walk in the park. The dogs appreciate it too.


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