Shabbat: Time vs. space

Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal

Shabbat is not only the day of rest when we remember creation and our redemption from Egypt, but also it is the recognition of the power of time over that of space.

In the Wall Street Journal today, there is a fascinating article by Sohrab Ahmari called “What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath,” where he describes how over time, Americans have turned away from setting aside a day of the week for rest and worship and instead they embrace “lives of constant action and purpose.” In fact, all around the world, people are choosing to live in an always on, 24/7 economy and lifestyle surrounded by the technology that wholly enables it. However, Ahmari quotes a profound teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that anchors Shabbat in our recognition of time over that of space as follows:

When we gain power in the realm of space [economically, materialistically, physical needs, habits, and addictions of all sorts], we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time… [However,] 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.

When we choose to keep the Sabbath, we mark a day of the week in time, where we reject all the worldly pursuits of space and materialism in lieu of recognizing that there is a higher power, G-d Almighty, and that as Ahmari says “everything else is ephemeral and passes away with time.”

Whatever we strive for, gain, accumulate, and hold dear materialistically eventually is lost over time. This is the cycle of this worldly life where ultimately all comes from dust and goes to dust. However, when we uphold the Shabbat, we stop all the vanity and pursuits of this world and instead acknowledge there is a time to work and a time to refrain from working, when we recognize the more important goal of our earthly life is striving for spiritual perfection and the attainment of a place in the true world, the World to Come.

Truly, the only way to be free from space and materialism is to find inner peace in faith in G-d.  This is where we achieve a deeper understanding that time trumps space every moment that we elevate the physical and make it holy. We stop the workweek and celebrate the Sabbath (and Jewish holidays). We stop before eating and make a blessing. We pause having marital relations and instead our wives count the seven clean days and go to the mikveh. We stop from just doing whatever we want and desire at the moment, and ask ourselves is this what is right and holy—is this what G-d wants from me?

Interestingly, we, ourselves, are a combination of time and space. As human beings, we are a physical entity that is bound by time, ages and eventually passes away.  Yet at the same time, we have a timeless soul, neshemah, that is a part of Hashem inside each and every one of us. The battle of our soul over our physical bodies and desires is where we fight for the mastery of time over space, and good over evil. This is where the keeping of the spiritual Shabbat demonstrates dominion over the mundane work week. And as they say, “When you keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath keeps you” and makes you a better, more spiritual and holy, person for it.

This week’s Torah Portion, Behar and Bechukotai takes the weekly observance of the Sabbath to the next level, by directing us to keep the Shmita where every seventh year, we cease work on the land and allow it to lie fallow. Moreover, we count seven cycles of seven years and then on the 50th year is the Yovel (Jubilee year), which is yet an additional year of rest and is marked as well by slaves being set free and land reverting to their original owners. This emphasizes again that what we do to make things holy in time rules over what we do purely physically in space, that nothing but G-d is timeless, and everything material reverts back to its origins and is gone from time as if it never even was. In the end, we need to live our lives with the forethought that the spirit goes to the everlasting afterlife, but the body goes to the physical grave.

About the Author
Andy Blumenthal is a business and technology leader who writes frequently about Jewish life, culture, and security. All opinions are his own.
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