Sabbathing in Place

Sabbath in Place

Our extended sheltering in place has naturally led to a lot of time to think and reflect. I’m a big mindset person which reminds me that I have a choice as to how I frame every situation. When I frame situations as challenges and opportunities versus insurmountable problems then I am much more energized and motivated to fight the good battle to come out the other side stronger and wiser. I am viewing sheltering in place as a similar challenge.

Sheltering in Place

I’ve heard about a lot of people who are understandably frustrated by being cooped up with young children with both parents working or people who are feeling and experiencing deep economic hardship and emotional fragility as well as kids who are frustrated that their schools are closed and they have to do distance learning without any of the social or athletic engagements. These are all real and impactful situations. My experience is not nearly as harrowing as 99% of the populace. I am fortunate to live in a nice home and it has become even more enjoyable now that my daughter has returned to it. My son is not far away either which is also a blessing. I am still working and I have been able to be productive doing so remotely as I spend most of my days on calls or Zoom meetings. The business I’m in, apartments, is an essential one and while it is clearly feeling the effects of the terrible economic contraction, it is holding up better than many other types of businesses. In short, I am fortunate and have the luxury of being a bit philosophical about the situation and applying a more reflective and accepting mindset.

Before I get started I just want to emphasize that the purpose here is not to proselytize but to communicate key philosophical principles of a culture and religion that have stood the test of time for 5,000+ years that may be helpful during these unusual times.


Most people know that in the Bible it is said that God created heaven, earth, animals, and man, etc. in six days and on the seventh day He rested. The seventh day is the Sabbath and in Judaism, it’s typically referred to as Shabbat, the Hebrew word. The importance of the Sabbath/Shabbat cannot be overstated in Judaism. The sheltering in place requirements inspired me to re-read Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath. I’m really glad I did as it helped shift my mindset a bit to look at the situation more as an opportunity than a hindrance or frustration. I wanted to spend the rest of this blog post to highlight some of the key takeaways for me from the book that I thought you might find valuable as well.

Heschel states that: 

Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.Click To Tweet

We spend the first six days of the week conquering space and time so that we can be fruitful and productive and yet this does not always bring us a deep sense of fulfillment and contentment. Striving for more does not always mean more satisfaction.

In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time.

So how do we overcome this? What is Judaism’s solution? All roads lead to sanctifying time over space and the conquest of the latter. What makes Judaism different from other religions is that it creates holiness in time. 

Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space-minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualitiless, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn.

Herschel’s could not overstate the importance of powerful moments to provide us with depth and meaning. There are no ordinary moments (another book I recommend).  Judaism doesn’t focus on structures and monuments but through the observance of the Sabbath its adherents have the opportunity to “renew the soul and we rediscover who we are.” 

We can only master time in time. The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.

A moment of insight is a fortune, transporting us beyond the confines of measured time. Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.

We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.

We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.Click To Tweet

This is akin to the quotation that “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by moments that take our breath away.” Some people have lived long lives measured by time but not really lived full, impactful lives, while others may not have been with us very long but lived fully and left their mark. This is the essence of the Sabbath. The true opportunity is to conquer ourselves and uncover what our gifts are and help give them to the world.

I’ve heard from people and read a lot on Twitter as well that many of us are rather enjoying not being in the rat race, spending a lot of money on business lunches, not having to travel so much, not needing to practice politics at work, and finding ways to reconnect with our families.

So why do we feel like this is such a welcomed respite?

According to Herschel,

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of 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.

When we become overwhelmed and subsumed by having versus being we become disintegrated and devolve into versions of ourselves that we often don’t like or refuse to look at earnestly. Observance of the Sabbath can help create a forced break from the doing and having to help us become more loving, giving, and connected.

With the Sabbath comes a miracle: the soul is resurrected, an additional soul arrives, and the effulgence of Sabbath holiness fills every corner of the household. Anger is lifted, tensions are gone, and there is a glow on the face.

Obviously this is aspirational and not easy to achieve as we are so programmed to work and be productive that we need to learn how to practice the art of rest.

Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence.

I know I’m not alone in feeling fidgety after being at home for so long and trying to find ways to stay busy and productive. It is a challenge to practice the art of perfect rest. Herschel says that if we don’t progress in this area, then this too can cause its own set of unintended consequences.

As he points out,

Labor without dignity is the cause of misery; rest without spirit the source of depravity.

To wrap up, Herschel helps remind us that the Sabbath dwells in the mystery of creation versus creation itself. This helps give us a much more expansive view of our world and our place in it. We are able to be less focused on the self by subordinating our egos to the needs of others and the world at large and to tap into the eternal.

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.

There is no need to turn away from all of the gifts of human ingenuity and output. We should also not be beholden to them.

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.

In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude — to have them and to be able to do without them.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter and for those celebrating Passover that you are enjoying your time as well.

May everyone find a deeper connection to your faith, family, community, and be more gentle with yourselves and others during this very challenging time.

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