April Book Review: The Sabbath
This post could alternatively be titled “just under the wire” because I both started and finished my April book yesterday, the last day of the month. The book is The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. And yes, I picked it because it was sitting on my shelf and a grand total of 75 pages long – perfect for my late start. And by late, I mean 9:50pm on the last day of the month.
I feel kind of like I haven’t stopped going all month. Toddler / day job / laundry / yard work / playground / yardwork / housework / cooking / jogging / shopping / planning / more yard work / more house work / blogging / more jogging / etc etc etc. Then my husband was out of town starting yesterday, and that just puts everything further into hyperdrive. So by the time I crawled into bed to read my book, the first few sentences hit me like a ton of bricks:
He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days… He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.
It took me about 3 or 4 passes to half-absorb all the big words in there. But my day had definitely been a dissonant one and I was definitely feeling yoked to toil.
The book is, not surprisingly, about the Jewish Sabbath day. One of the 10 commandments is to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”, so this is important stuff for Christians as well. In our Christian home, we don’t generally observe this except by going to church on Sunday, and the occasional Sunday afternoon nap. Now after reading this book, I wonder if my original Sabbath concept needs some restructuring. Generally, I would have categorized the Sabbath as a day of rest, but in a sense of tithing.. i.e. giving your time to God.
Instead, Rabbi Heschel points out that the Sabbath is a holy gift from God. Its not about us giving God our time as a personal sacrifice, its about the blessings we receive. God commanded us to take the day off, and we GET to. This may seem subtle but it makes sense in my head.
The author describes the wonder of the Sabbath from several angles, but the one that stuck with me the most is that the Sabbath day is a view beyond our current civilization.
All week we may ponder and worry weather we are rich or poor, whether we succeed or fail in our occupations; whether we accomplish or fall short of reaching our goals. But who could feel distressed when gazing at spectral glimpses of eternity, except to feel startled at the vanity of being so distressed?
The Sabbath day is a glimpse into heaven when there will be no house to clean and no job to commute to. No more toil. The author explains things much better than I, and much more poetically.
This was a fascinating read for me on several other levels. I’ve never read a religious book by a Jewish rabbi, so I found some of the nuances to be really interesting, especially those highlighting our differing views on heaven and the Messiah (duh). He quoted lots of great old testament passages. The book was so flowery and eloquent and abstract. My A + B -> C = D personality really struggles to understand what’s going on behind all the poetry, and at the end I’m just left with sort of a vague warm and fuzzy feeling that’s hard to describe. Just like back in Freshman Philosophy class. (I think therefore I am.) But my takeaway from reading this book is this:
Maybe I need to be more intentional in my observation of the Sabbath. Maybe this is just an attitude adjustment or maybe it should be an actual framework or set of rules or family traditions. Not sure.
The book was a gift from my dear friend Sarah who’s a seminary student. I don’t remember why she gave it to me, but I think its even more appropriate to my life now than it was 2 years ago. Thanks friend, it was really a blessing to me this week!!