Reflections on Sabbath and Time

This book has been on my shelf for quite some time but eluded my full attention until now. Although I will not call this a formal “book review” I certainly want to share some thoughts and quotes.

“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.”

For me, this passage on the very first page of the book sets up the entire premise as Heschel wants to make a very important distinction between time and space…between doing and being.

As a kid growing up in the Christian home of a pastor, I remember lots of rules about the “Sabbath” (which just meant Sundays for our non-Jewish family). Sunday was a day of rest. Sunday was a day set apart for God. We bathed on Saturday evening in preparation for wearing our “Sunday Best” to church. Gospel/worship music was played in our home before heading off to church. We tried not to eat out usually, because that meant spending money and causing other people to work on the Sabbath. Some of the rule-keeping was good in that it made us aware of the importance of the “Lord’s Day.” But I would say that my understanding of the Sabbath was more about prohibitions and less about what the Sabbath really meant and what it was for.

“The meaning of 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.”

For Heschel, sabbath is about creating a “palace in time” in which we enjoy the menuha (rest) of God…time with the Good Shepherd who has lead us to the still waters of rest.

My personal rhythm of sabbath keeping has been an attempt to regularly shift from time (chronos in the Greek sense) to time (kairos) in a more Jewish understanding of God’s time. These two Greek words for time underscore the distinction for me that we can either use time or enjoy it.

There is much to be said for the practice of “sabbath keeping” and setting aside time to nourish one’s soul. People often speak of “living in the moment” or “being present” and I think Heschel has great words of wisdom and inspiration around reorienting one’s relationship to time and things.