Monday, July 16, 2007

The Sabbath: Its Meaning For Modern Man

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Published in 1951, this little book has been considered a classic almost since its publication. Heschel (1907-1972) is a Jewish scholar whose works are highly respected by both Jewish and Christian theologians.

My copy (published by Shambhala Books) is a little bigger than a waffle, but you won't breeze through it! It will force you to stop and reflect every page or two.

American society is especially in need of this little volume. In it Heschel argues the holiness of time as primary over the holiness of space. Technology is seen as man's attempt to conquer the world of space at the sacrifice of time. "Yet to have more does not mean to be more."

If anyone wishes to argue our technology frees up our time I would like to ask how a cell phone frees my time up? It keeps me on call 24/7! My laptop with its wireless connectivity enables me to continue working in coffee shops and restaurants. My gadgets seem to have more control of my life than ever before. Doubt it? Go for a day without any of your "gadgets" and see how well you do.

Heschel is incredibly prescient with this little book. It was written over 50 years ago: before personal computers, laptops, cell phones, pagers, answering machines, and (I may be off on this one by a couple of years) before color television! Yet he knew our propensity to be under the control of technology, space, and possessions.

Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

"The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time."

"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 say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man...Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self."

"The soul cannot celebrate alone, so the body must be invited to partake in the rejoicing of the Sabbath."

"After six days of creation--what did the universe still lack? Menuha. Came the Sabbath, came menuha, and the universe was complete. Menuha, which we usually render with 'rest,' means here much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain or activity of any kind. Menuha is not a negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive. This must have been the view of the ancient rabbis if they believed that it took a special act of creation to bring it into being, that the universe would be incomplete without it. What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose. To the biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony."

While many argue observance of the Sabbath is not a Christian practice, I would suggest the principle is still valid. Read the book and see for yourself if Heschel's meditations do not resonate within!


David said...

Brother Darryl - Dave here. I just saw your post on The Sabbath. I finished reading it (twice) at the end of last year. Absolutely marvelous work. I love the Jewish metaphors for the "coming bride" of the Sabbath, of conquering space vs. sharing time, just some awesome stuff. We (the Scott family) instituted a very firm Sabbath practice after the reading. Not legalistic, just a no apologies, turn off the cell phones, no email, in each others' face Sabbath. It's been wonderful.

Inspired me to read God in Search of Man. Have you read it?

Darryl said...

No, I have not had the opportunity to read God in Search of Man (may have to borrow your copy!). I first ran across Heschel when studying the minor prophets. His two volume work on the prophets was required reading. It was some of the most insightful reading in which I had ever been engaged. I had never thought about the pathos of God until then. An incredible scholar, writer, and heart!

Thanks for yoru post!

David said...

So is The Prophets worth the effort for a guy like me?

Darryl said...

i think you'd enjoy it. but just remember what you obviously know: heschel is not an easy read! (but not near as difficult as buber!)

Julie aka Gigi... said...

This sounds like a book I would love to read. I am so interested in the Sabbath and what it means to us today. I get excited about the idea of actually taking a day to rest our minds and bodies from work (especially since my work of mothering 7 children never stops! There must be some way to rest on the Sabbath and still mother those 7 kids though because I know the Israelites had lots of children!). I will have to get this book.
Thanks for the review!
Julie Jones