[Here’s the final preview from my forthcoming book: Putting the Bible in Its Place.]
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As a kid, I thought the whole idea of “Sabbath” was the dumbest idea. EVER. I mean, what kid needs a whole day of rest?! Now, I think it’s one of the smartest ideas. EVER.
Sabbath is a gift from Judaism. According to the Talmud, it—more than any creed—sustains the Jewish people.
Destroy the Sabbath and you will destroy the Jewish people. More than Israel kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept Israel.
The array of rules that developed around the Sabbath are easy to ridicule. But the concept itself is not. To be whole and healthy, we all need to take a break. Regularly. Religiously.
Yes, work is necessary, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Humans can’t live on bread alone or on work alone. We need leisure. We need rest.
According to Jewish legend Moses decreed that the seven-day week—well established before his day—must end in a day of rest for relaxation, reflection, and re-creation to preserve his people’s humanity. Otherwise, they might as well have remained slaves in Egypt.
Moses believed that with knowledge and hard work, these former slaves could become masters of their fate. But if their drive to make the world or themselves better was relentless, then they’d be slaves to a goal. Thus, everybody, no matter their social status, was granted (and mandated) a day of rest. Full stop.
As a child, I thought the intent of the fourth commandment was to force people to work six days. “Six days SHALL you labor.” I thought leisure came naturally to everybody. But as an adult I soon discovered that work came naturally. It’s a kind of rush. In fact, it can be addictive.
We can become slaves to work.
Sadly, many social justice crusaders burn themselves out, thinking their righteous work is too crucial to pause. Such thinking is self-centered. It’s thinking too highly of oneself. Everybody needs a break. (And that means you!) No, it doesn’t come naturally. You must etch it on your calendar and not rely on spontaneity.
Plan your work. Work your plan. Plan your rest. Rest your plan.
The purpose of life is not work or a paycheck. The purpose of life is joy.
Sabbath enshrines that aspiration.
Keep it, and it will keep you.
See Paula’s photo (“Hydrangea Season”) on the home page. Posted August 7
It is important for us to decide if we are humans or human beings. Being, in many ways, is more essential than doing. All motion and no meaning will result in burnout. Quiet time for reflection and rest is vital, whether one calls it Sabbath or not. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, an inspiring activist for social justice, remarked, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
So true! My mantra as an adult became “I work to live; I don’t live to work”.
I learned from those wiser than me that “ work done in the spirit of service to humankind is worship”… so I learned early how to love my work.
In Europe and many other countries they learn to take a break – be it siestas; long lunch breaks; or summer breaks that last a month or more.
Most faiths have a sabbath, or Holy Days meant to reflect, restore, refresh (& not work).
That time is fundamental and invaluable to our inner peace & well-being… it takes practice!
Thank you for your reflections!! A great way to start my Sabbath.
Really appreciate this one, and came at a time when I needed to read it.
When I was a kid we four kids weren’t allowed to leave the yard on Sundays, or to have friends over to play. We were stuck with our own company. It took me a few years to appreciate that this was a way of bonding us as well as our recognizing the sabbath.
I agree. My rest will come on November 9, but till then, I steal bits of time to relax.
My Sabbath is called retirement. 🙂
I agree with all these concepts and practices yet find it interesting that the final day of the week is actually Saturday. Per the calendar and quoted Jewish tradition/practice the Sabbath is on Saturday, Sunday is the start of the week;)
Good point. Christians (most but not all) tended to keep many Jewish practices with modifications. One day of rest but on the first day of the week instead of seventh, supposedly to commemorate the day Christ rose from the dead (now know as Sunday) marking the beginning of a “new creation.” Then there’s Easter in place of Jewish Passover and so on.