70 Days: The Lost Shabbat

Shabbat candlesWhen Lemech named his new son (at the end of last week’s reading, Gen. 5:29), he called the boy “Noach”, saying “this shall comfort us (yeNaCHameinu) from our work and the difficult labor of our hands.” But the name Noach was prophetic in a different vein, as the name also means to be at rest (“NaCH”). The Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabbalah, of Jewish mysticism, says that “Noach” is thus a hint to the Sabbath, the day of rest. “Shabbos” is derived from the word “SHeVeS,” which also means to be at rest: “for in [the seventh day] He rested (“SHaVaS”) from all His work.” [Gen. 2:3]

In this week’s reading, Noach is commanded to make sure there is a light in the Ark, using the unusual word “Tzohar” (found nowhere else in the Bible) to indicate brightness like midday (“Tzaharayim”). The Avnei Azel writes that when we combine the numerical value of “Tzohar” with that of the Ark, “Tayvah,” the sum is the value of “Shabbos.” The Sabbath encapsulates both the Ark, the shelter from the flood, and the brightness within it.

We live throughout the week with work and other responsibilities, building up (and sometimes crashing down) around us. Shabbos is quite literally a shelter from the storm, and opportunity to withdraw from all the distractions and focus upon what is truly important. It is the busiest executives who, when they decide to fully observe the Sabbath, and stop using all electronic devices and not do business on that day, frequently remark that they don’t know how they survived without it.

Viewed correctly, the Sabbath isn’t about restrictions, but is the opportunity to focus upon the light within.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“The Light Within”
Commentary on Torah Portion Noah
ProjectGenesis.org

I usually “get in trouble” when I post anything mentioning mysticism or Kabbalah, and I want to assure you that I tend to see mystic writings metaphorically, since I am nowhere near being any sort of “mystic” myself. But in reading Rabbi Menken’s commentary on last week’s Torah portion, I can’t help but once again be captured by the “magic” of the Shabbat. I don’t think it’s so much the mechanics of the seventh day, but the idea that God has provided the Jews with a way to wrap themselves inside a comforting blanket of sorts, that provides peace and a special closeness with God for one day a week. It’s as if the week is a cold, winter’s day with an icy wind blowing, freezing you to the marrow as you make your way about your tasks, and Shabbat is staying in bed late in the morning, toasty warm and pleasantly relaxed inside and under your comforter, while that self-same icy wind blows impotently outside.

I have been told more than once that the Shabbat is the sign of the Mosaic covenant with the Children of Israel and as such, is not “transferable” to the rest of the world, but of all the blessings that God provided the Jewish people, I must admit, I continue to “covet” only this one. I find it a particular disappointment that when Jesus made it possible, through certain blessings of the Abrahamic and New covenants, and through his broken body and blood, for we non-Jews to also enter into covenant relationship with God as his disciples, he didn’t make it possible for us to also enter into a weekly Shabbat as well.

More’s the pity.

But then again, early Christianity, when it threw off its Jewish mentors and guides like old rags and “reinvented” itself in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in Holy Jerusalem, set aside many of the “Jewish” aspects of its own Messianic worship, including meeting with other like-minded Gentiles and Jews in the synagogue to daven on Shabbos. We abandoned the potential for such a “rest” in both God the Father and in Christ. We did it to ourselves.

I say all of this because I’ve contacted a Pastor and set up an appointment to meet with him in a little less than two weeks to discuss my “situation.” As I’ve said in other Days blogs, I pretty much have to “fish or cut bait.” I can try to sit on the edge of a razor blade forever, or pick a side and jump off into whatever awaits me below. So I picked a side and jumped. Now, I’ll be in free fall for the next week and a half or so, and then I’ll arrive at ground level and make the first “bounce” in my landing. Believe me, I’ll make sure you hear it when I go “thump.”

But the closer I move toward Christianity and the church, the further I feel I am distancing myself from Judaism and, in some aspects, particularly from my Jewish wife. And as I said, of all the Jewish practices and values I have been exposed to, the Shabbat is the one closest to my heart. Even though the Shabbos candles are no longer lit in my home on Friday evening, I do not abandon it in my heart. But with my body and everything else, having chosen a “course correction” for myself which is designed to increase my trust in God, what am I leaving behind?

In describing the Shabbos, the verse in Bereshis (2:3) writes: “For on it [the seventh day] Hashem rested from all His work which He created לעשות —to do.” This final word in the verse…does not complete the thought of the verse the thought of the verse smoothly, and it seems to even be an extra word altogether.

A cursory observation of the world indicates that Hashem continues to sustain the world on Shabbos just as on every other day. Plants grow and creatures thrive on Shabbos, with the ongoing providence of Hashem overlooking every detail just as on the weekdays. In what manner, then, is the seventh day a day of rest for Hashem?

The Bnei Yisasschar explains that when the world was created, it was set into place with the potential it needed to continue, and for nature to take its course. Creatures were given the instincts necessary to procreate, and plants were placed into their environment for survival and in order to prosper. As the world continues to exist on Shabbos, it is within the realm of work that was put into place before Shabbos, and the work takes place on Shabbos automatically without further input.

The verse tells that Hashem created the world “to be done.” Hashem continually renews the world every moment. Yet, from the day of creation and onward, this supervision of Hashem is manifest in a manner as if the world is set and conducts itself naturally.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“A World Set in Motion”
Commentary on Shabbos 17

I’ve sometimes wondered about Creation, the Seventh Day, and entropy, that property of all systems including the universe, to go from a more to a less organized state, very slowly running down like an old clock worked by a mainspring (if you’re old enough to remember such clocks and watches). When God “rested” and He built-in to His Creation the ability to continually move forward under its own “momentum,” so to speak, is what we see of the universe’s expansion, and the general long-term decay of systems (including human being “systems”) part of His “rest?”

Jewish philosophy sometimes states that God is continually renewing the universe and if He was to cease, even for the briefest of moments, existence itself would fly apart. But I seem to notice (and I believe the scientific world will agree with me here) that the universe is rather very slowly, ponderously, “flying apart” anyway. Sort of a disturbing counterpart to the “warm, comforting blanket Shabbat’s rest” I described above.

FallingApartBut if God’s rest isn’t a literal, one-to-one model of Shabbat between Creator and creation, then perhaps it is a twist on the metaphor that we should regularly rest in Him, or otherwise “fly apart” for lack of any rest in God at all. However, I understand that we can also consider the Shabbat as a hint or foretaste of the Messianic era to come, when all of our current concerns and labors will come to an end and we will all perpetually rest with Him.

The Jewish people are compared to the stars twinkling in the high heavens. By their light, even he who walks in the darkness of night shall not blunder.

Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual strength to influence friends and acquaintances, and bring them into the light.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Cheshvan 5, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

God gave a good many gifts to the Jewish people, not the least of which is the Shabbat. Although both Judaism and Christianity tend to agree that we non-Jews don’t enter into a weekly Shabbat’s rest (no Christian ever treats Sunday like an observant Jew treats the Shabbat, so no, Sunday is not the “Christian Shabbat”), it is much to our own regret that we fail to do so. For we have robbed ourselves of not only a weekly renewal in God, but of a preview of what life will be like when the Jewish King and Lord will take possession of his kingdom, and rule the world in true justice and in peace.

And yet today and in the weeks ahead, I find myself deliberately walking on a path that leads away from that peace. I hope this is me trusting in God rather than me just being foolish.

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10 thoughts on “70 Days: The Lost Shabbat”

  1. I would like to caution you against being misled away from the Shabbat. While it is true that the shabbat was given only to the Jewish people, the ger among them, and their behemot, were to benefit from it. It may remain a Jewish responsibility to “administer” the shabbat, but ultimately the entire world will enjoy its benefits. From a Rav-Yeshua messianist’s perspective, non-Jews are not required to keep this aspect of Torah (per the halakhic decision rendered in Acts 15), but they are still expected to learn about it each shabbat in synagogue teaching (per verse 21). Thus, they, who are grafted into the domesticated tree to participate in its richness, are permitted to enjoy the richness of the shabbat. The demonstrations that HaShem could cleanse a non-Jew and manifest His Spirit in them suffice to prove that they also may experience a “neshamah yetera” in the arrival of shabbat (as one might also expect of the ger cited in Torah). Further, in Isaiah 56, the b’nei necher is not to denigrate himself as unable to benefit with HaShem’s people, and is commended for keeping the shabbat. Hence, while there is no additional or separate giving of the shabbat to non-Jews, they are not to be prevented from observing it under the auspices of the Torah.

  2. non-Jews are not required to keep this aspect of Torah (per the halakhic decision rendered in Acts 15), but they are still expected to learn about it each shabbat in synagogue teaching (per verse 21). Thus, they, who are grafted into the domesticated tree to participate in its richness, are permitted to enjoy the richness of the shabbat.

    Thanks for that. I have observed and not-observed Shabbat in a variety of settings and contexts over the past ten or more years. The missus, who is Jewish, isn’t particularly observant at the moment and I’ve “relaxed” my own behavior in recent months. It’s not as if I’ve suddenly ceased Shabbat observance after a long period, but I am aware that in choosing to try and reconcile with the church (link leads to part 1 of a 2-part series), there are certain compromises I’m sure I’ll have to make. Today’s “morning meditation” is my reflection on one of those compromises.

    While I agree that the Jerusalem letter recorded in Acts 15 expresses an expectation that the non-Jewish disciple would attend synagogue, hear the Torah being read, and learn of the God of Israel, I don’t think there was an ongoing demand that all Gentile disciples must attend a synagogue. After all, Paul did establish more than a few congregations (some of them mostly or exclusively Gentile) in the diaspora when the local synagogue did not accept that Yeshua (Jesus) was the prophesied Messiah. I have to remind myself (and anyone reading this) that although the modern Christian culture has practices and concepts that differ from some of my own, that the church contains the vast majority of the disciples of Christ today, and for the most part, they are doing his work, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and comforting the grieving in his name.

  3. James, a little late to this post, sorry.

    As one who has “challenged” you to not forsake assembling yourself with other believers, especially given your home environment, I’d like to say a few things “for the record.” 🙂

    1. I wasn’t actually suggesting you attend Church on Sundays. There’re other ways. I was more suggesting you join in a small-group –or– home-group study that are popular in churches and happen during the week.

    2. I disagree that attending Church has to put an end to Shabbat… It does make it a little more difficult however. But if it did create a problem, that’s when I’d find another outlet to be with the body of believers known as “the church.”

  4. I probably won’t opt for attending a regular Sunday morning service as my first choice as you mention Lrw, for a variety of reasons. Maybe I should “ease” back into a more traditional Christian fellowship. We’ll see how it goes. My appointment to meet the Pastor is next Friday afternoon.

    Shabbat observance isn’t what it used to be. Both my wife and daughter often have to work on Saturday and even lighting the candles Friday night isn’t a priority for them at this point. My church “involvement” probably won’t affect that one way or the other, but I’m not sure how a “typical” Christian (if there is such a thing) would accept even my having a desire for Shabbat.

  5. “Shabbat observance isn’t what it used to be. Both my wife and daughter often have to work on Saturday and even lighting the candles Friday night isn’t a priority for them at this point.”

    I’d say you’re in a great position to lead here James. I’ll be interested in seeing what the ripple effect will be in your family. There’s something very inspiring about a man’s calm resolve to follow God.

    “I’m not sure how a “typical” Christian (if there is such a thing) would accept even my having a desire for Shabbat.”

    They wouldn’t receive it well because they wouldn’t understand it. But, what says you have to be so transparent? Either to the leadership or the congregants? My opinion (I know you didn’t ask for it) is that it’s not really fair to be overly transparent. First, some things should be protected because they’re precious. Second, revealing some things would actually burden the one hearing.

    I’ll give you an example: a Pastors wife whom id always liked and been friendly with said she needed to talk to me. She said she owed me an apology because she had been harboring a lot of negative feelings about me and didn’t like me…. I didn’t know what to say to her because I hadn’t suspected it in the least and suddenly I felt all this turmoil. I was so embarrassed but wanted to relieve her and so I of course said I “forgave” her. Off she went and there I was left to wonder why she felt that way about me, what I’d done to her, who she talked about me to and what she said etc. etc. in other words, she burdened the hell out of me and it really wasn’t fair. I was hurt AFTER she got done with me but I’d been clueless before. The proper and more compassionate thing to do would be to just keep her mouth shut and stop harboring those feelings.

    So, all that to say, don’t say things that will be a stumbling block to those who don’t understand. In time, within relationship, it will be different.

  6. As far as Shabbat observance at home, it’s kind of complicated, or at least difficult to discuss in a public forum, Lrw.

    As far as transparency goes, in my meeting w/the Pastor, I intend to be pretty transparent. No sense beating around the bush. In my first email to him, I gave him the link to this blog so he’d know something (everything, almost?) about me. He’s supposed to be a little unusual himself, since he lived in Israel fifteen years, and that was before becoming a Pastor.

    Sorry to hear about the Pastor’s wife in your case, Lrw. If it would have been appropriate, I would have asked to have coffee with her and discuss *why* she had such negative feelings about me. This is yet another reason that church seems “scary” to me. Christians sometimes drop these little “bombs” on you, ask for forgiveness, but never attempt to actually resolve whatever issues they have with you.

  7. “This is yet another reason that church seems “scary” to me. Christians sometimes drop these little “bombs” on you, ask for forgiveness, but never attempt to actually resolve whatever issues they have with you.”

    Haha, yes they do, but just like all organizations everywhere, Christianity is populated by people… who use a certain vernacular and have certain ways.

    There’s opportunity to be offended at almost every turn in life, but I’ve learned (mostly) to see it as a human problem rather than “Christian”. What’s the joke… something like “I don’t want to go to church, it’s full of hypocrites!” To which the Pastor says “oh don’t worry, you’ll fit right in!” Haha, good food for thought (speaking about myself)

  8. What’s the joke… something like “I don’t want to go to church, it’s full of hypocrites!” To which the Pastor says “oh don’t worry, you’ll fit right in!” Haha, good food for thought (speaking about myself)

    Yes, well there’s always that to consider. I’ll find out more this coming Friday afternoon I guess.

  9. “As far as Shabbat observance at home, it’s kind of complicated, or at least difficult to discuss in a public forum, Lrw.”

    Sorry James, I wasn’t saying for you to lead regarding “official” Shabbat observance since shes Jewish and you aren’t, I think I wasn’t clear. I meant to decide what is important (you are, by attending SOMETHING) and quietly resolving to follow your convictions and His commandments as they apply to you. That’s inspiring, especially when it’s the MAN doing it, so few take the lead in spiritual matters.

  10. That’s inspiring, especially when it’s the MAN doing it, so few take the lead in spiritual matters.

    Actually, I already do that and my family accepts my convictions, even if they don’t always understand them.

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