Picture the scene: Dead, feathered birds are lying on the kitchen counter; a bag of flour has spilled onto the floor, along with a orange juice—and so, the two-year-old is having a lovely time creating edible mud pies from the mix. From upstairs, a scream shakes the house—it’s the little one furious at the big one for making her bathtub too hot. Meanwhile, the big one is kvetching at the top of her voice because “there’s nothing for me to wear.” The father of the house is hiding somewhere, in full knowledge that if he shows his head, he’ll be sent out again on another urgent, last-minute errand.
At this point, the doorbell rings. It’s the nudnik guest, delivering his gift bottle of wine in advance, certain that the lady of the house has nothing better to do this afternoon than stand at the door and chat. She is careful to open the door only a slight 20 degrees, wedging herself into the space—first, so that the guest won’t see the state of affairs within; but also to prevent the little one who has just escaped from his hot tub from running out naked into the street.
The guest sniffs the air, and sighs, “Ahhh . . . Shabbos!”
Shabbos? Shabbos is a day of rest! Of peace! Of harmony! This is a total disaster zone!
But the guest smells what is coming. And the inhabitants of this house know as well. They know the dead birds will become a sumptuous chicken soup, the remainder of the flour will become fresh-baked challah, the children will be neatly dressed in their finest clothes, the father will turn up again, and they will all sit together at the table, singing in harmony and telling the stories and words of Torah they learned in school that week.
When you know the story, the scene becomes a different scene. The gadget in your pocket, the news on the tab before this one, the financial chaos and the promises of technological breakthrough, the void of leadership and the medical miracles that keep failing to come—think of those as the dead, feathered birds on the kitchen counter, soon to become a sumptuous chicken soup.
Science has opened our eyes to the awesome harmony of our world. The Kabbalah of the Ari, explained in the language of Chabad, can open anyone’s eyes to the G‑dliness behind that harmony. Shortly, we will sit at the Shabbos table with Moshiach, who will show how the earthly wisdom and the heavenly wisdom complement one another. While we are yearning for that knowledge, what is stopping us from tasting a spoonful of the soup right now?
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Last Day of History”
This is the climax to a rather lengthy and challenging article my wife shared with me the other day. I must admit to having skimmed over much of the content, but this portion is not only straightforward but rather the point of it all. I don’t mean that it’s the point of the article, although I suppose it is, I mean that it’s the point of everything.
For we who have believed enter that rest…
–Hebrews 4:3 (ESV)
The writer of Hebrews and Rabbi Freeman seem to be drawing their respective audiences to the same point: that we will one day enter into that final rest with the Messiah. What is especially attractive about Rabbi Freeman’s perspective is that a foretaste of that rest exists right now. Jews experience a small sampling from the “menu” of the Messiah’s table every Shabbat. Some Christians who are attached to the traditional Jewish community, Messianic Judaism, or Hebrew Roots, also have the opportunity to experience that “rest” and sample from the “menu” to varying degrees.
As far as I can tell, most Christians don’t.
I think that “Christ’s rest” is something that is more conceptual within Christianity. Most Christians anticipate being “raptured” and going up to Heaven of course, but there’s no idea that you can get a preview of the event before the event, at least not very frequently. There’s no manner of experiencing such an event in the material world because the “Messiah’s rest” is thought to be wholly spiritual.
More’s the pity.
I miss even the tiniest sliver of Shabbos observance in which my family used to participate. Hopefully, by God’s mercy, my wife will desire to observe the Shabbat again as her life calms down, and our home will be illuminated and warmed by the Shabbos candles once more.
I’m sure what I’m saying seems totally alien to most Christians. How can we experience the return of Jesus Christ before he returns? It must seem ridiculous.
But think about it.
In the U.S., we’ve recently celebrated Thanksgiving and most Christians are anticipating Christmas in just a few weeks. One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the aroma of delicious foods in the kitchen. I traditionally barbecue the turkey in a Weber on the back patio, so in tending to it, I get to enjoy the smells of the slowly roasting bird as the smoke curls into the air. These smells all by themselves are highly pleasurable and also herald the grand feast that is to come.
And that is Shabbat. We know the feast will come but we also have a role in preparing for the feast. How many “feast” metaphors did Jesus use to describe the preparations for his own return and King and Bridegroom? Here’s just one of them.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
–Matthew 25:1-14 (ESV)
There’s preparation. There’s work to be done. There’s waiting. And then finally, sometimes unexpectedly, the Prince arrives and the feast begins.
But in cooking a meal, how many chefs manage to taste a bit here and a bit there, making sure the seasoning is just right, adding a spice or an herb to enhance the flavor?
I suppose that’s what Christmas is to most Christians…celebrating the birth of Jesus and his first entry into the world in anticipation of the second. That’s probably why Easter is also observed with such zeal (and a meal), to rejoice over the risen Jesus and to pray that he returns soon.
But while Judaism also has its great festivals, they also have Shabbos, the weekly reminder. Going to church on Sunday just doesn’t compare.
For a Jew, six days of the week are spent in pursuit of the mundane, taking care of business, and sometimes letting life take over or overwhelm. Shabbos is bringing order to chaos and peace to turmoil. Even the preparations for Shabbos can seem maddening, much like life itself, but the result is wonderful, much like Messiah’s coming.
In God’s wisdom, He gave the Shabbat to the Jewish people as a sign of His covenant with them. Alas, it did not transfer to we Christians when we were brought into the fold. But sometimes you need rest and refreshment in order to summon courage for what is to come and to lay down the burden of what’s already happened. I don’t observe Shabbat these days, but I hope I will again. You may not observe Shabbat either, but it’s something you can access if you choose.
Messiah may come today, tomorrow, next year, or a thousand years hence. But Shabbos comes every week. Why wait? The Challah is rising in the oven and pots are steaming and bubbling on the stove. Have a taste of chicken soup now. It’s delicious.