Search our Archives:
» Opinion & Society
Shabbat and the Renewal of Time
By Jonathan L. Friedmann
With the seventh-day Sabbath, Jews commemorate the completion of G-d's creation of the world. It is, in essence, a weekly reenactment of the biblical account, in which G-d, on the seventh day, "ceased from all the work of creation that He had done" (Gen. 2:2). In abstaining from the labors of everyday life, Sabbath-observant Jews construct a worldly repetition of this Divine act, and, in turn, afford themselves a weekly opportunity to renew their own lives. Much more than a symbolic event, the Sabbath constitutes what historian of religion Mircea Eliade called the "myth of the eternal return." Through ritual recitation of the liturgy, rest from labor, and other ceremonial acts, the Jew returns weekly to the dawn of time. Such commemoration repeats the pre-eminent cosmogonic act: the creation of the world.
The foundation for the Sabbath is summarized liturgically in the Friday evening prayer, Vayekhulu ("And they were finished"), which is taken from Genesis 2:1-3: "Thus the heaven and earth were finished, and all their legion. On the seventh day G-d completed His work which He had done, and He abstained on the seventh day from all the work which he had done. G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He had abstained from all His work which G-d created to make."
This brief passage encapsulates the Sabbath's central function: the repetition of cosmogony. By acknowledging reverently the original act of creation, the worshiping Jew is able to experience, on a spiritual level, the Bible's portrayal of the earth's creation. Through the recitation of prayer, the Jew is transported to the beginning of the world.
Importantly, this renewal of time also has ethical implications, as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik noted: "When G-d created the world, He provided an opportunity for the work of His handsmanto participate in His creation. The Creator, as it were, impaired reality in order that mortal man could repair its flaws and perfect it. G-d gave the Book of Creationthat repository of the mysteries of creationto man, not simply for the sake of theoretical study but in order that man might continue the act of creation" (Halakhic Man, p.101).
The Sabbath consists of a dual recognition of G-d's cosmic creation and the creative potential He has given to humankind. As a ritual reenactment of the foundation of the world, the Sabbath is, perhaps above all else, a reminder of humanity's continuation and perfection of G-d's creation.
Jonathan L. Friedmann is Cantor at Bet Knesset Bamidbar in Las Vegas, and teaches religious studies at Whittier College.
* * * * *
For more on Customs & Traditions,
see our Customs & Traditions Archives
from the January 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (www.something.com)