A Day of Rejoicing
by Truman G. Madsen

       The decision to write on this topic really goes back to many visits that my wife, Ann, and I have had in the homes of Orthodox Jewish people-mostly while we were in Israel. We noted how they observed the Sabbath, especially Shabbat Eve. That triggered in me a great interest in searching their lore for the roots of Sabbath observance…
     I want to discuss…four mighty metaphors. They are more than that to the Jew; they are mighty meanings of the Sabbath in their lives…
     A beautiful myth says that on the Sabbath day, in addition to your own soul, a second soul possesses your body-a good or better soul. And this is a symbolic way of saying that in every man and every woman there are two kinds of inclinations, good and bad. But on the Sabbath, somehow God sees fit to send an extra spirit, if you will, which lifts a man above his ordinary evil inclinations and spells peace.
     They also have a story that whenever a Jew returns home from synagogue on Shabbat Eve, two angels follow him-one bad, one good. If when they reach his home all is prepared-the table set, the candles lit-then the good angel prays and says, “May this be the way the Sabbath will be in this home every week.” The other angel, against his will, says ‘amen.’ But if the man returns home and it’s just as it always is, more or less in chaos and no effort has been made toward the Sabbath, then the evil angel prays that this may be the way it always is in this home; and the other angel, against his will, says ‘amen.’
     They go farther in saying that the Sabbath outweighs all other commandments. In some of their literature, to keep the Sabbath is to keep the whole law and to break it is to break the whole law.
     I turn now to…the metaphors. Note that nothing I say will list things you ought to stop doing or start doing on your own Sabbath. What I hope to do is to stir a new attitude, a new feeling, whatever you do. For the Jew, to miss the feeling is to miss it all, and some of us Latter-day Saints are missing it all. Here are four ways in which they teach by metaphor.

A Sanctuary in Time
     First, as I’ve indicated, they see the Sabbath as a sanctuary in time. Now, it’s true they have strict requirements, and even now in Israel there are hospitals which are so prepared, organized, and planned, that they keep the Sabbath. If you care enough, it can be done. But all that discipline-all that “thou shalt not”-is seen as an instrument to joy. A disciplined joy, indeed, but nevertheless joy and celebration. Mind, says one of the great rabbis, is established by joy; by melancholy it is driven into exile. It is a sin, according to Judaism, to be sad on the Sabbath. If that’s startling language, I’ll startle you further. The Talmud says that we will be held personally accountable before the judgment of God for every legitimate Sabbath pleasure we did not enjoy. We are commanded to have joy. To miss the joy is to miss it all.
     This joyous note is marked among them by special things: by special dress, by a special tablecloth in the evening, by special food-sumptuous food, in fact. Then there are the twisted loaves. One tradition says the two loaves wrapped in one symbolize the word for “remember the Sabbath” and also the word for “keep the Sabbath.” Others say it symbolizes the law and the prophets. There may be other possibilities, but all point to exhilaration. Except in certain offshoot groups of Jewish tradition, there is nothing we can find that is puritanical-if by puritanical we mean with H. L. Mencken that a Puritan lives in mortal dread that somewhere, sometime, somebody is enjoying himself. The Jews talk about the joy of the commandment. This is in their hearts. This is on their lips. And if I can put it in modern language, they make a production out of it.

A Feast
     Second, they speak of the Sabbath as a feast. And they remind themselves over and over that when Moses had the children of Israel in the wilderness a double portion of manna was given just before the Sabbath, but none on the Sabbath, so that the day was recognizable in two ways-by what was absent and what was present. Jews serve the most beautiful meal of the week on Shabbat Eve. The mother often has to prepare for as much as two days before, and one of the traditional dishes is a kind of stew which stays simmering all night long the night before the Sabbath and then needs only to be served. The feast is itself a form of ritual, and it requires special preparations and special activities. It is, to quote one writer, a palace in time. Something of the same spirit attends America’s Thanksgiving dinner. It involves, for one thing, the bringing in of the stranger or of the poor. (This is why Ann and I had such firsthand and close experiences. We were foreigners, and were invited for that very reason.) “Come and share our Shabbat.” It is a feast even for the poorest man in the poorest ghetto. Why? Well, because even if he is poor and cannot afford the twisted loaves and a little wine and the meat and the fish and the candles, the synagogue in that area will see that he has them. That’s a requirement. So on that particular day even a poor man is rich.

Heaven On Earth
     The third metaphor has roots in the Jews’ mystical tradition, but it has biblical precedent. They talk about the Sabbath as heaven on earth; as-if you want to be specific and mathematical-one-sixtieth of paradise. You have a foretaste of paradise. The seventh day, some legends say, is the reflection of the seventh heaven, the highest heaven. By the way, they also say having dreams is one-sixtieth of being a prophet. They believe that this is cosmic, that nature herself celebrates the Sabbath. In the Church we have a hymn titled “Come Away to the Sunday School.” One of the lines is “Nature breathes her sweetest fragrance on the holy Sabbath day.” That’s the Jews’ feeling. Even the rivers don’t work on the Sabbath. They are accustomed to throw up rocks and dirt, so they may be very calm on the Sabbath. Even hell celebrates the Sabbath. People who have been tormented in hell are, for purposes of the Sabbath day, released. The hosts of heaven celebrate the Sabbath. They gather and they sing and they feel tranquility.
     All the miracles of the six days of creation, say the Jews, are somehow available to us, or should be, on the seventh day. And all creation “resolves itself into melody if we have ears to hear.”

A Queen
     Finally, they speak of the Sabbath as a queen, as a bride. How did that get started? Well, here are two traditions. According to Rabbi Simeon, the Sabbath said unto the Holy One (their word for Adoni, the Lord) “O master of the universe, every living thing created has its mate, and each day has its companion, except me [this is the Sabbath speaking]. I am alone.” The Holy One replied, “Israel will be your mate.” So, on their view, Israel cries out to the queen or the bride and says, “Come, holy Sabbath.” He who prays on the eve of the Sabbath and recites the verses that begin, “The heavens and the earth were finished”-the scriptures say he is become a partner with the Holy One in creation.
     Now, the tradition goes further. The Sabbath is meaningful to God. The world would not be complete if the six days did not culminate at the Sabbath, but they compare this to a king who has made a bridal chamber, has plastered it, painted it, adorned it. Now what does the chamber lack? Obviously, a bride. What did the universe still lack? The Sabbath. Imagine a king who made a ring. What did it lack? A signet. What did the universe lack? A Sabbath. So the Sabbath is a bride. Its celebration is like a wedding, and the bride is to come lovely and bedecked and perfumed.

 


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