By Malachi Brown
Before classes started, and all the homework started to pile up, I christened myself determined to read at least one book for fun this semester. I wanted something that would help me take it easier this semester, have more grace with my friends and peers, and would give me a break from the feeling that to do well in school meant digging the graves of my social and spiritual lives, a feeling I knew all too well in the fall. I eventually settled on “The Sabbath” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
I remember being a high schooler working at Steak N’ Shake, and of course, a junior in high school isn’t going to know all the labor laws off the top of his head. I often would work long nights and have no breaks, not because they were driving me to work, but because I felt like I didn’t need one. One day, I came home and my dad asked me what I did on my breaks, and I told him, “I don’t take them,” and he said something along the lines of, “No, you should probably take your breaks. You’re going to be able to work harder and better if you take a few minutes to recoup.” Recently, Heschel taught me that the way we think about rest is all wrong.
We do not know how to rest because we do not know how to deal with time. We are spatial creatures. Religions for thousands of years have dedicated spaces as holy — mosques, sites, temples and cathedrals. Even religions before the modern era dedicated things as holy, like idols. This is where Judeo-Christianity is different: the tabernacle — a space — was one of the last things to be declared holy. Before the tabernacle, the people of Israel were called to be holy, and even before that, there was something else. The first thing to ever be called holy was a day, a slice of time: the Sabbath. In Heschel’s words, since creation, the Sabbath has been ordained as “a cathedral in time.”
We often view time as a resource, a currency, a thing of space. “Spending time,” “saving time,” “investing time.” Maybe we view time as a thing of space because we do not know how to confront time head-on. The idea of losing time is mortifying to us, but we forget that we are never not losing time. Thankfully, there is a cure to this. When we start truly believing in eternity, we suddenly realize that to lose time is of no loss to us, and the idea of giving up one-seventh of our time alive to sanctify a day is of no cost, because one-seventh of eternity is still eternity.
The Sabbath, both the book and the holiday, teach us what it means to live in “The Year of Our Lord.” To practice Sabbath, to have a day of prayer, feasting, praise, leisurely strolls and family, is to indulge in the paradise which was designed for us. The Sabbath was not made so humanity could have the energy to produce more than the other six days, but we were told to prepare enough during the six days so we might keep the seventh holy.