To the Romans technical civilization was the highest goal, and time for the sake of space. To Rabbi Shimeon spiritual life was the highest goal, and time for the sake of eternity. His conclusive comfort was: in spite of all dedication to temporal things, there was a destiny that would save the people of Israel, a commitment deeper than all interests–the commitment to the Sabbath.
This then is the answer to the problem of civilization: not to flee from the realm of space; to work with the things of space but to be in love with eternity. Things are our tools; eternity, the Sabbath, is our mate. Israel is engaged to eternity. Even if they dedicate six days of the week to worldly pursuits, their soul is claimed by the seventh day.
(From chapter 4 of The Sabbath)
A persistent theme throughout Heschel’s work is the fundamental difference between “pagan” and “Jewish” conceptions of time. That “fundamental” difference is highlighted here and may be stated as:
- Pagan view – time is for the sake of (the conquest of) space. This view of time leads to an understanding that the purpose of life is accumulation of money, goods, power… the building of our own “personal empires” (the Romans are a macrocosm of that in the passage above).
- Jewish view – time is for the sake of eternity. This view of time leads to an understanding that the purpose of life is “menuha” – wholeness, repose, and rest… the total consecration of our “selves” for the end for which we were made (the eternal Sabbath is Heschel’s symbol for this).
So part of the logic of the 7th day is to remember – in time – the end for which we were made, which leads to an orientation of time towards wholeness (shalom) and not towards conquest. Sabbath anchors eternity in time, and therefore makes time a home for the flourishing of eternity.
May God’s eternal rest flourish in and around you this weekend, and always.