Heschel – Sabbath Quotes

October 12, 2008 — Leave a comment

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Jewish rabbi and brilliant thinker and activist.  His book, completed by his daughter, called The Sabbath is a densely beautiful description of the Sabbath that takes us to its core.  Several quotes for our Sabbath series come from the book and I found by ‘Googling,’ a more complete list of quotes that you will want to browse! Numbers refer to the page in Heschel’s book, The Sabbath.  (NOTE: for the whole list , click Read More and Comment below)
Creating holiness in time requires a different sensibility than building a cathedral in space: “We must conquer space in order to sanctify time.”

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” 3

In our daily lives we attend primarily to that which the senses are spelling out for us: to what the eyes perceive, to what the fingers touch. Reality to us is thinghood, consisting of substances that occupy space; even God is conceived by most of us as a thing. The result of our thinginess is our blindness to all reality that fails to identify itself as a thing, as a matter of fact. 5

The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments 6

Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time. 6

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn. 8

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. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world. 10

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self. 13

To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from, toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. “Last in creation, first in intention,” 14

Not only the hands of of man celebrate the day, the tongue and the soul keep the Sabbath. One does not talk on it in the same manner in which one talks on weekdays. Even thinking of business or labor should be avoided. 14

It must always be remembered that the Sabbath is not an occasion for diversion or frivolity; not a day to shoot fireworks or to turn somersaults, but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than to dissipate time. 18

The soul cannot celebrate alone 19

It is one of life’s highest rewards, a source of strength and inspiration to endure tribulation, to live nobly. The work on weekdays and the rest on the seventh day are correlated. The Sabbath is the inspirer, the other days inspired. 22

The words: “On the seventh day God finished His work” (Genesis 2:2), seem to be a puzzle. Is it not the Lord made heaven and earth” (Exodus 20:11)? We would surely expect the Bible to tell us that on the sixth day God finished His work. Obviously, the ancient rabbis concluded, there was an act of creation on the seventh day. Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha was created on the Sabbath.

“After the six days of creation-what did the universe still lack? Menuha. Came the Sabbath, came menuha, and the universe was complete.” 22

To the biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony. The word with which Job described the state after life he was longing for is derived from the same root as menuha. It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust. The essence of good life is menuha. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters” (the waters of munuhot). In later times menuha became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life. 23

The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it. 28

It is a day in which we abandon our plebeian pursuits and reclaim our authentic state, in which we may partake of a blessedness in which we are what we are, regardless of whether we are learned ornot, of whether our career is a success or a failure; it is a day of independence of social conditions. 30

The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Sabbath is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not a day for petitions. Fasting, mourning, demonstrations of grief are forbidden. 30

It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath day. 31

“Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work (Exodus 20:8). Is it possible for a human being to do all his work in six days? Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the verse means to convey is: Rest on the SAbbath as if all your work were done. Another interpretation: Rest even from the thought of labor.”32

All flesh is grass, all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field…

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever. 40

After the work of creation was completed was completed, the Seventh Day pleaded: Master of the universe, all that Thou hast created is in couples; to every day of the week Thou gavest a mate; only I was left alone. And God answered: The Community of Israel will be your mate. 51

Thus the meaning of that word on Sinai was to impress upon Israel the fact that their destiny is to be the groom of the sacred day, the commandment to espouse the seventh day. 52

According to the Talmud, the Sabbath is me’en ‘olam ha-ba, which means: somewhat like eternity or the world to come. 74

Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come. Sad is the lot of him who arrives inexperienced and when led to heaven has no power to perceive the beauty of the Sabbath… 74

There is much that philosophy could learn from the Bible. To the philosopher the idea of the good is the most exalted idea. but to the Bible the idea of the good is penultimate; it cannot exist without the holy. The good is the base, the holy is the summit. Thing created in six days He considered good, the seventh day He made holy. 75

We have known profanity too long and have become accustomed to think that the soul is an automation. The law of the Sabbath tries to direct the body and the mind to the dimension of the holy. It tries to teach us that man stands not only in relation to nature but in a relation also to the creator of nature. 75

With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire tot he holy. The SAbbath is an ascent to the summit. It gives us the opportunity to sanctify time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity. 75

We usually think that the earth is our mother, that time is money and profit our mate. The seventh day is a reminder that God is our father, that time is life and the spirit our mate. 76

In the language of the Bible the world was brought into being in the six days of creation, yet its survival depends upon the holiness of the seventh day. 76

The quality of holiness is not in the grain of matter. It is a preciousness bestowed upon things by an act of consecration and persisting in relation to God. 79


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