Monday, March 18, 2013

The Sabbath Part II

“Let us greet the Sabbath for it is the source of blessing.”

“Come My Beloved”, Friday night prayers, Prayer book

"Come My Beloved", a prayer customarily sang on Friday night to welcome in the Sabbath, refers to the Sabbath as the source of blessing. What does this mean, the source of blessing?

As mentioned in the introductory essay on the Sabbath, I often think of Sabbath observance as a testimony of faith. All week long we work for sustenance. I go to the office and earn a paycheck or to the store and receive money from customers in exchange for my products or services. The impression is that my work brings my sustenance. On the Sabbath, we refrain from working. Store owners forego their income on that day and ambitious professionals stay at home while their colleagues get a bit more work done or forge another business connection at a golf outing. Earlier in this century, Sabbath observers often lost their jobs over their refusal to work on the Sabbath. In agrarian eras, the refrain from work on the Sabbath took on a broader meaning due to the closer connection of agrarian life to the prohibited categories of work. If I want fish, I reach into my refrigerator, even on the Sabbath. In the days of old, a person had to catch a fish and eat it fairly soon thereafter – trapping being a prohibited category of work. If they wanted fruit, they had to pluck it from a tree – another prohibited category of work.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 19th century Germany, described the Sabbath work prohibitions as physically creative labor. They are derived from the work done to build the tabernacle in the desert. The tabernacle was the first temple, or house of monotheistic worship of God. It is considered a symbol of the world itself, which G-d inhabits to the extent we make it a suitable domicile for Him.

I recall hearing a mystical idea that the physically creative labor used in the construction of the tabernacle was also used for the creation of the world. As I can’t recall the source, I can’t vouch for the veracity of this idea. But one can derive its symbolic meaning from logic. If the tabernacle is a mini-world, and the thirty-nine categories of work were used to build the tabernacle, then the thirty-nine categories are somehow connected to the creation of the world.

The relevance of these concepts are as follows: The secular outlook is that our labor produces our sustenance. The physical produces the physical. The religious outlook is that the good Lord feeds us as David said, “The eyes of all look up to You, and You grant them their food in the right season.” (Psalm 145) By refraining from work on the Sabbath, we appear to be jeopardizing our sustenance. But this is not so if God is the source of our sustenance. Even on Tuesdays and Thursdays, our sustenance only appears to come from our labor and comes actually from Heaven. By refraining from work on the Sabbath and trusting that our overall sustenance will not decrease, we are testifying our faith in the spiritual origin of our sustenance, that all sustenance is a blessing from Heaven.

What a great boon to our lives is this outlook. No longer do I have to fear my boss or the economy. The Lord sustains me. I need look only to His kindly hand for my security. I don’t need to flatter, manipulate, or cajole men. I need only to be a good person, to follow the wholesome dictates of the Torah, which themselves are salubrious.

So we have tried to argue that the Lord is the source of blessing and that the Sabbath is a testimony of faith in the Lord. So how is the Sabbath the source of blessing, as we asked up front?

In the Standing Prayer, (the 18 benedictions), of Friday night services, we say that the Sabbath is “the purpose of the creation of heaven and earth”.  I’d like to propose that we weave together all of these ideas. Through our observance of the Sabbath, we testify our faith in God as the source of all blessing. By refraining from work for a day, we demonstrate that all sustenance results not from our work but from God for we continue to thrive despite our resting for a day. When we say the Sabbath is the purpose of the creation, we can take it to mean that our observance of the Sabbath is the purpose of the creation for our observance testifies that G-d is the source of blessing. This means that the purpose of the creation is that we see that God is the source of the creation. If this recognition is the purpose of blessing, then in fulfilling the purpose, we create a reason for the giving of additional blessing.  This comparable to a father who gives his son a water hose so that he can water the lawn. If he waters the lawn, verses splashing his sister, then there is reason to give him more water. If the purpose of blessing is to see that God is the source of blessing, then if we recognize God as the source, then there is every reason to give more blessing. Since Sabbath observance is a recognition of the Lord as the source of blessing, as I’ve tried to explain, then Sabbath observance is the  source of blessing or, rather, the chief conduit of the source of blessing, which is G-d.

So we see, Sabbath observance is not merely adherence to a dull set of archaic rules. It is a meaningful testimony of faith that brings good to the world and to ourselves. It brings peace of mind, blessing, and connection to the One that loves us.

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