Heschel, for your Sabbath Day (#3)

On Fridays (since it’s the Arndt family “Sabbath”), I’ve been posting little snippets here on the blog from Abraham Heschel’s marvelous little book The Sabbath (if you haven’t done it yet, for goodness sakes, please buy it soon).

These snippets are from chapter 2, in which Heschel argues that practicing Sabbath helps us reclaim the dignity of our “selves”, and by proxy, the dignity of our labor as well… it helps us stand, as he says, “beyond civilization”.  Enjoy!

Technical civilization is the product of labor, of man’s exertion of power for the sake of producing goods.  It begins when man, dissatisfied with what is available in nature, becomes engaged in a struggle with the forces of nature in order to enhance his safety and to increase his comfort.  To use the language of the Bible, the task of civilization is to subdue the earth, to have dominion over the beast…

Is our civilization a way to disaster, as many of us are prone to believe?  Is civilization essentially evil, to be rejected and condemned?  The faith of the Jew is not a way OUT of this world, but a way of being within and above this world; not to reject, but to surpass civilization.  The Sabbath is the day on which we learn the act of surpassing civilization…

The Sabbath as a day of abstaining from work is not a depreciation but an affirmation of labor, a divine exaltation of its dignity.  Thou shalt abstain from labor on the seventh day is a sequel to the command: “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work.”

To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature–is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?

The solution of mankind’s most vexing problems will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it…on the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization…man’s royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.

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