Bob Schwartz

Tag: Sabbath

Days of Awesome: Day 1 (Rosh Hashanah)

 

I brought them out of the land of Egypt and I led them into the wilderness. I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, by the pursuit of which a man shall live. Moreover, I gave them My sabbaths to serve as a sign between Me and them, that they might know that it is I the Lord who sanctify them.
Ezekiel 20:10-12 (New Jewish Publication Society translation)

Note from The Jewish Study Bible:

The Sabbath is the foundational sign of the covenant (Exod. 20.8–11; 31.12–17). Scholars have suggested that the Sabbath became particularly significant in the exile, as holy time replaced the vacuum of holy space (the Temple); this might explain why the Sabbath plays such a significant role here. As in Exod. 31.13, 17 (from the Priestly tradition), it is viewed as a sign, namely a symbol acknowledging God as Creator.

Here we are confronted with the phenomenon at the heart of this holiday. At the heart of every holiday. At the heart of religion and reality itself. We are concerned with space. We are concerned with being. We are concerned with time too. But we may not be properly concerned, in a balanced way that accounts for time, space and being.

We can rule space, or at least pretend to. If you visit New York or other great cities, you see how people have shaped space to their liking and purposes. But where in New York or elsewhere have even the richest and most powerful ultimately shaped time? We can mark time, but do we understand? To help us understand, time is set aside. It may be by God, it may be by our society or community, it may be by and for those close to us.

The Sabbath each week, and the Days of Awe each year, are set aside to be different than the other days of the week or of the year. Different in fact than any other days of eternity. In part to remind us of present eternity.

For more, see The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel and The Time-Being by Zen Master Dogen, which can be found in Enlightenment Unfolds.

This is the first post in a very small project/experiment in random wisdom I call The Days of Awesome. In addition to the standard and traditional forms of worship and contemplation associated with the Jewish High Holy Days (also known as Days of Awe), each day of the holiday I will be studying a randomly selected chapter of the Tanakh (also known as the Jewish Bible or the Old Testament), which has 39 books containing a total of 929 chapters.

Among other things, this is inspired by the I Ching and by social theorist and philosopher Gregory Bateson, who is quoted as saying “I am going to build a church someday. It will have a holy of holies and a holy of holy of holies, and in that ultimate box will be a random number table.”

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Time

Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory

Driving down a country road, a man sees a farmer. The farmer is holding up a pig so that the pig can eat apples from a tree. The man stops and says to the farmer, “You know, that’s not very efficient. If you put the pig down, shook the tree and let the apples fall to the ground, it would save a lot of time.” The farmer says, “You may be right, but what’s time to a pig?”


The result of our thinginess is our blindness to all reality that fails to identify itself as a thing, as a matter of fact. This is obvious in our understanding of time, which, being thingless and insubstantial, appears to us as if it had no reality.

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations. But things of space are not fireproof; they only add fuel to the flames. Is the joy of possession an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of inevitable death? Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives; we are more harassed than supported by the Frankensteins of spatial things.

It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we cannot conquer time through space. We can only master time in time.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sabbath


At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers were crossed, you were present. Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

As time is not marked by coming and going, the moment you climbed the mountains is the time being right now. If time keeps coming and going, you are the time being right now. This is the meaning of the time being.

Does this time being not swallow up the moment when you climbed the mountains and the moment when you resided in the jeweled palace and vermilion tower? Does it not spit them out?

Zen Master Dogen
The Time-Being
The Essential Dogen

In the Beginning, Again

Genesis Illustrated Cover

This Sabbath, the annual cycle of Torah readings starts all over again. Again. Back to the beginning. Genesis (Breisheit), Chapter 1.

In the beginning….Well, you probably know how it goes. But don’t be jaded by familiarity. And don’t avoid it or be put off by belief that this and all the Genesis stories that follow are neither history nor science. So what? These are big stories and we need big stories. Not to be used as clubs to beat us up (though there is that), but as invitations and portals to bigger things. If not, then why are so many watching Hunger Games or Downtown Abbey?

Instead of learned discourse, here is something much more fun. R. Crumb, one of the great comic artists (beginning with his classic underground comics in the 1960s—Mr. Natural, etc.), published his Book of Genesis Illustrated in 2010.

Genesis Illustrated Back Cover

(If you don’t like pictures or Crumb’s illustrations, you might just try the excellent translation of Genesis that Crumb used, by Robert Alter)

Take a moment, whatever your inclinations, and allow yourself to be awed. Whatever you think is awesome, the sudden appearance of everything is more awesome than that, however you explain it. And for those who are waiting to see the Big Guy with the long beard–you know you’ve just gotta have it–here it is.

Genesis Illustrated Page 1

The Sabbath: To Have and To Do Without

Abraham Joshua Heschel

“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 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. On the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space. Man’s royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.”

The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Republican Jewish Coalition and the Sabbath

Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership 2014

It’s Saturday, the Sabbath in Jewish communities. Why is this Sabbath different than all other Sabbaths?

Because on this Sabbath Sheldon Adelson’s Republican Jewish Coalition is continuing its three-day Spring Leadership Meeting, including a galaxy of political and policy stars looking for support, prestige, power, and money, including:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Vice President Dick Cheney
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer
Ambassador John Bolton

It’s true that the majority of American Jews don’t fully honor the Sabbath as a time for rest, reflection, and study. It’s also true that some number of those do try in small ways to live in the spirit of the Sabbath. Where Sheldon Adelson and the RJC sit on this spectrum of Sabbath observance and honor is between them and their God and their party.

One of the things that most non-Jews and many Jews don’t recognize is the complex significance of the Sabbath. The year is filled with special days, some regarded as very serious, very important and, in the case of the High Holidays, literally awesome. The Sabbath, though, stands apart, characterized as a beloved or royalty, as a bride or queen.

The great, deep and inspiring Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote an incomparable work on the nature and meaning of this. The Sabbath presents a spiritual picture of what he calls sacred time. The book is considered by readers of all faiths and even no faith an uplifting view of how we are to live in the context of such a powerful reality.

It would be presumptuous to say whether the late Dr. Heschel, who among his many achievements marched with Martin Luther King in Selma almost fifty years ago, would attend the RJC Spring Leadership Meeting. In any case, most likely not the RJC on the Sabbath.

Although the RJC will be holding its political beauty pageant today, they still might have a moment to squeeze in some Heschel. This passage from the Epilogue of The Sabbath is out of context, and not so easy to appreciate on its own. It does have something to say about space, which can be owned and fought over, and time, sacred time, in which we are all joined and connected and sharing—no matter who you are, no matter how many casinos you own, no matter how big your PAC:

Time, then, is otherness, a mystery that hovers above all categories. It is as if time and the mind were a world apart. Yet, it is only within time that there is fellowship and togetherness of all beings.

Every one of us occupies a portion of space. He takes it up exclusively. The portion of space which my body occupies is taken up by myself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet, no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living men as it belongs to me. We share time, we own space. Through my ownership of space, I am a rival of all other beings; through my living in time, I am a contemporary of all other beings. We pass through time, we occupy space. We easily succumb to the illusion that the world of space is for our sake, for man’s sake. In regard to time, we are immune to such an illusion.