Shabbat's Place in Man

Rabbi Ze'ev Chaim Lifschitz


"...Take some roots of Shabat, some essence of praise and awareness, and some essence of joy and confidence.  Remove the pits of anguish and anxiety.  Take the flower from the pomegranates of knowledge and insight, and add roots of patience and acceptance.  Grind everything in a mill of self-effacement, and cook in a pot of humility.  Knead with sweetened words and emulsify in a solution of grace and loving kindness.

Feed the patient who is suffering from despair..."

From Introduction to Sefer HaNimtsa, attributed to Maimonides.

To understand Maimonides' "cure" for despair, we must examine Shabat itself, and the Jew, and the place that he occupies in the world.  We can begin with some basic principles that pertain to Shabat, and that derive from the classical Jewish sources:

1.  The laws of Shabat [1] are "mountains that hang upon a thread."

2.  Only "kavana," conscious intention, can determine whether a particular action constitutes a transgression of Shabat or is merely "a labor that is not needed."

3.  "Premeditated labor" is forbidden.

4.  The principles of Shabat observance are determined by what transpires at the human level, rather than by the technical act itself.

5.  Objective halacha depends upon subjective intent.

To discuss the Jew, we must begin with the basic assumption that he does not operate in the same way that a non-Jew operates.  A Jew's existence is an endless process of change.  This can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing.  The Jewish condition contrasts sharply with the non-Jewish condition: A non-Jew exists within a clearly defined, well-established framework.  His reality is solid and dependable.  It is with this perspective that we examine the laws of Shabat.

Shabat, and Torah study, deviate from the subject-object relationship that is normally associated with a mitsvah.

The normal relationship is one-way: From Jew to environment, from the acting human being to the object being acted upon. These two mitsvot, however, are based upon a principle of reciprocity. The mitsva, and the performer of the mitsva, mutually affect and are affected by one another.  These two mitsvot express - more than any other aspect of God's worship - the mutual relations that exist between man and his Creator.

Man creates Shabat.  He is expected to "make Shabat," and not only to "keep Shabat:"  "The children of Israel shall keep the Shabat, to make the Shabat for their generations - an eternal covenant."

  On the other hand, Shabat creates the man.
[3]  Shabat is a reality of its own.  It does not resemble anything formed by man or God.  An entirely new entity, created "Yesh me Ayin," "being out of non-being," it is formed - it grows and evolves - out of a set of codes and signals that is continuously communicated between Creator and Jew: "Between Me and the children of Israel, it is a sign forever."  The reality that is called Shabat is created cooperatively between the Jew and his Creator.

Shabat is created by the keeper of Shabat, by the way that he expresses the sanctity unfolding within him, by the way he expresses his yearning for redemption from physical matter, by the way he realizes the spirit of God that is in him.  It is a dialectic process that transforms the Jew's most sublime spiritual awareness into an experience that is tangible and accessible to the physical senses.

This transformation comes about through detachment from practical activity.  This includes even practical activity that is creative, perhaps especially so.  We detach ourselves from the creative conquest of external reality.  On Shabat, a Jew turns inward, into his own self.  It is the time for creating himself, by expressing the godly element that is in him, by expressing his "I."

"I" refers to that innermost quality within oneself, the source of which is in God.  By expressing "I," a Jew becomes renewed.  He is transformed into an entity of godly presence.  Expressing "I" leaves a powerful impression upon the expresser.  All of his senses are moved by it.  He becomes renewed by the experience of "I"- expression.  New powers are engendered within him, so new that they may be described as new creation - as the creation of "being out of non-being;" he can attain a stature that is above and beyond the limits of his inborn potential.

Shabat is created, and Shabat creates in turn.  It is created by the Jew and it creates and renews the Jew by a "bounteous outpouring" that breaks through all prior assumptions of human limitation.

A non-Jew may not enter the inner sanctum of Shabat.  He may not force his way into Shabat, nor seek to taste of its fragrance.  It would not be an experience of renewal or enrichment for the non-Jew.  Rather it would be "wealth retained for its owner's undoing."  For bounty to enrich, it must suit the owner's capacity to digest.  This applies to Shabat, and to the study of the Torah.



Two remembrances rather than one make Shabat different from every other mitsva.  "In remembrance of the exodus from Egypt" is a theme underlying many mitsvot, including Shabat.  However, Shabat bears another element as well:  "In remembrance of the primal act," i.e. the creation of the physical universe.

Shabat promises its observers a rare privilege: Man and physical universe are enveloped within a tangible godly presence, and godly presence is actualized in man and physical universe.

How does actualization take place?

The inner, subjective human quality must find its self-expression by uniting with the outer objective reality.  It must be an individual expression - one's unique self actualizing its own exclusive potential.  Shabat is a man's one chance to reveal his secret longing, for he forever longs and wishes that actualization of his spirit could be the exclusive goal of his material existence.

Upholding the Shabat constitutes a victory of spirit over matter, a liberation of the qualitative spirit from the confining stranglehold of time and space.  And all of this is accomplished without being forced to detach oneself from the material world.  One is indeed required to view the material world as positive, pleasurable, and tangibly real.  "You shall call Shabat pleasure,"   "a semblance of the world to come," in this world.  It is here, with Shabat, that Judaism celebrates the mystery of its triumph and its eternity. 

Ordinary religious sensibilities perceive physical matter as an obstacle.  Yet sublime Providence comes to tell us that other possibilities exist; that spiritual content can be preserved in the garments of physical matter, that there are tools for actualizing the spirit that are exclusive to the physical domain. 

Under normal circumstances, it can be a dangerous venture - trying for cooperation between spirit and matter.  A man can feel that he has stumbled into someone else's battle - both demand that he choose sides...he escapes by the skin of his teeth, sustaining injuries from both factions...

But Shabat wears the apparel of physical matter gloriously, as implied in the verse "they made loincloths for themselves."
[4]  On Shabat, it is the Creator of the universe Himself in all His glory, Who clothes the keeper of Shabat in glory, in remembrance of the primal act.


Remembering the Primal Act of Genesis.

One relates to the world of acting: There are many acts whose main essence is in the doing, in the fact that they are being executed.  We view all such acts from their practical perspective: We fulfil the practical mitsvot - we take the lulav, we dwell in the suca, we don tefilin, we help one another, we do acts of chesed. 

Yet there are other mitsvot that take place only within the heart: Belief in God, confidence in God, awareness of the "remembrances" etc.  The fulfillment of these mitsvot leaves no tangible mark on the objective world of action.  The mitsva unfolds between oneself and one's Possessor, in the inner spaces of the heart.

It is needless to mention that the practical mitsvot are not meant to be carried out mindlessly - mere monkey's tricks devoid of personal meaning or intent.  Nevertheless, it takes very little to satisfy the halacha.  "Mitsvot require conscious intent,
[5]" in the simplest sense of the word; the doer must be aware at the time of doing, that his doing is for the sake of mitsva.

To attempt other, "higher" intentions, is to entangle oneself in the famous controversy over the passage originated by the Chassidic movement: "For the sake of the union of the Holy One and the Immanent Divine Presence..."  This passage was to be recited prior to the performance of every mitsva. 

Noda BeYehuda rejects this practice of reciting additional passages, on the following grounds:  "Whoever adds, detracts."
[6]  Maimonides agrees with this position.

There need be only one intention when sounding the shofar, writes Maimonides: That is, the intention to fulfil what is written in the Torah.  We sound it because "the Merciful One said, sound it."

We see, then, that there is an entire category of mitsvot that focuses upon effecting objective change in the physical, external world.

The internal/external distinction has wide application.  It is the crimson thread running through the entire spectrum of human activity: Certain behaviors are intended to establish facts, to attain an objective in the field.  Other behaviors are intended to serve as an expression for some inner meaning, for some emotion, for the outlet of an accumulated reservoir of emotion. 

In this second category, activity unfolds within the inner human self, it cannot be seen with the physical eye.  It is a behavior, but it takes place within the subject.  There is no defined expression.  No mark is made upon any object.

Shabat is the only mitsva that addresses the innermost depths of human awareness, that expresses the very most sensitive and delicate among human emotions and thought processes, and yet at the same time intends clearly to establish a definite fact in a definite field of objective reality.

We see, then, that the act of Shabat unites "being" with "doing."  This is called "the world of yetsira."  It is the point of encounter between the world of spirit and the world of matter.  The reality that exists in "the world of yetsira" is entirely the fruit of human creativity. 

Creating reality in "the world of yetsira" is a unifying act.  For one must take one's materials from "the world of asiyah," of doing.  Then one must endow them with idealism, with meaning, and with values, that one has drawn from the sublime world - "the world of briah.

To achieve this, one must travel the road of personal involvement with the act.  One must bestow one's own meaningful value and direction upon an external object, and thus - a private and personal relationship with an objective external mitsva is achieved.  A merger takes place.  Inner quality is bestowed upon an external quantitative act. 

It is then that a truly real reality unfolds, weighted with qualitative meaning.  Reality is transformed - it becomes an utterly new entity.  Its like has never previously existed, and will never exist again.

The act of Shabat relates to only this sort of loaded and charged reality.  Shabat ignores the more paltry realities, the one-sided realities, whether they are the overly internalized reality of inner feelings that lack practical tangible expression, or whether they are the overly externalized reality of objective phenomena that are detached from inner human intention. 

Either of these, when detached from the other, is irrelevant - ineffectual.  Relevant only is that perfect balancing act, which is the halachic observance of Shabat, as reflected in the elusive mishnaic description, "mountains that hang upon a hair." 

This phrase alludes to the ultra-fine balance of forces, the symbiotic dependency shared by universe and human being, that characterizes the Shabat encounter.  Compare this with the merely secular act; all that counts are the recordable facts in the measurable field.

A threat is constantly hovering over man and his deeds: There is the danger of a split.  The two may come apart.  A crack may develop between "to be" and "to do," and it can widen into a yawning and devastating fissure - to the point where a man's practical life has no relationship to his inner needs. 

On Shabat, this contingency disappears.  It is wafted away by the ultra-subtle, ultra-delicate ultra-sensitive fragrance of the victorious "to be."  "To be" is on top.  It acts as sole determiner of the practical actions of "to do," whether prohibiting (refraining from desecrating the Shabat) or permitting (bestowing sanctity upon the observances of Shabat).

The vast no-man's-land that sprawls between the inner and outer realms disappears on Shabat: Shabat is about bestowing your own inner quality upon an external act.  It is about creating a new reality, a new fact in the field, laden with your own unfolding human process, steeped in the wine of your own idealistic yearnings, in the very purpose of your existence, in your spiritual goal.

Here one enters "the world of yetsira," of creativity, here one "glories in the work of [one's] hands."  Here, in Shabat, a Jew creates a three-way encounter: Creator ('dimension of sublime values, of height;' the "world of bria," of Divine creation) / man (one's unique and personal awareness of sublime values, expressed in one's private "world of yetsira," of creativity) /physical universe.  (For man's expression of creativity to take place in the "world of yetsira," he must draw upon the 'real-world' physical and material substances found in "the world of asiya," of practical doing).

In sum, it is man who bestows material "asiya" substance upon sublime "bria" values.  Out of this encounter - that can be effected only by a human being - a new reality is born. 

The laws of entropy have no power against this new reality - it has been immunized by Shabat.  Integrity - integration - is the gift that Shabat bestows upon the Jew, in return for the gift of integrity that he bestows upon the universe. 

The separate components that comprise the human personality become consolidated into one whole.  This solidity - and this wholeness - is permanent, in a way that does not exist in nature.  The lasting value of this transformation has no equivalent within the natural network of human being-universe relations.

Hence the claim that the resting of Shabat supplies a source of energy unknown and unavailable in the secular realm: In the secular reality, energy is wasted, expended.  More is sent out than is taken in.  One finds more the waste of energy than the creation of energy.  Shabat, unlike the six days of doing, conducts energy to - rather than from - the human being.  The replenishment, plus bonus, of one's energy supply at weekly intervals compensates for energies drained and depleted during the week.

It is important to point out that man's empowerment and his control over reality within the "world of yetsira" does not occur automatically.  Rather, it follows the rule of - "Make His will, your will, so that He will make your will, His will."
[8]  A human being who lives by the Creator's rules is the one who can set down his own rules in the game of reality.  What he says, goes - because his will is God's will.

 "A just man decrees and the Holy One fulfils," and "not in Heaven is [the Torah]."  Halachic authority is vested in the man who lives by halacha and who arrives at legal verdict according to halacha.  Heaven itself facilitates his work, and God smiles on him, saying, "my children have triumphed over me."

But Shabat is the focal point for all of this.  The "world of yetsira" revolves around Shabat.  It is on Shabat that a Jew sets down the rules of the game of reality.  These are the rules that he creates; they are the fruit of his own creative qualitative spirit.  It is by these rules that he will conduct himself during the days of the following week, and it is by the light of their inspiration that he will form his response to the days of the preceding week.  The conclusions that he draws will be colored by this inspiration.  His perspective upon the world of action is imbued with a new light, drawn from the dimension of height.

Thus does the Jew look down upon reality from above.  He encompasses it, he controls it, and he even creates it anew.  It is a new reality - in which the days of the week become the material actualization of the spiritual quality of Shabat.

So empowered does a Jew become, through the inspiration of Shabat, that the delicate balance of human-universe relations - as reflected in the subtle textures of the natural processes which enable "natural" non-Jewish man - may sometimes be "jeopardized." 

It is true that these processes are certainly determined by free choice, a trait that is shared in common with all those who are created in God's image.  Yet although created in God's image, all other human creatures are bound within a system of natural laws. 

The Jewish freedom of choice contains an additional quality: Empowerment.  It appears that a Jew is capable of taking control of the material systems.  Shabat liberates the Jew significantly from the impositions of natural reality, whether for better or for worse. 

This means that a Jew must bear responsibility for what transpires within the universe.  Here we are afforded an insight into the peculiarly Jewish susceptibility to any and every ideal of social justice.

Reciprocity and covenant characterize the relationship between Jew and Creator of the universe on Shabat:  "Between Me and the children of Israel it is a sign forever." 

Would a non-Jew presume to enter this innermost space, into the mystery of the sanctity of Shabat, he would be forced to renounce his natural, rule-governed relationship to the universe.  At the same time, he would not have the system of Torah and mitsvot to enable him to build his own world of yetsira.  In other words, he would still remain subordinate to natural law.  This is too heavy a burden for a human being to bear.


"And the children of Israel shall keep the Shabat to make the Shabat…a covenant forever.  Between Me and between the children of Israel, it is a sign forever."

Shabat commemorates the primal act of Genesis, and the exodus from Egypt. 

These two "remembrance" principles direct the Jew to view Shabat simultaneously from two perspectives: Firstly, Shabat as the foundation supporting the created universe.  Secondly, Shabat as the foundation that supports each member of Israel, that is, every single individual Jew.  How so?

To understand this, we must focus briefly on the developing processes of the created universe.  'Developing' is not quite the right word to describe the processes that constitute the created universe.  'Unfolding' would be a more faithful and accurate term. 

Development implies flow along a fixed channel.  The flow is subject to fixed laws, and follows a course that is fixed in space and time.  Definite and fixed stages for every process may be predicted in advance.

'Unfolding' is not determined by fixed causal factors.  Rather, many factors coalesce from many directions.  The most important factor, the cause that transpires within the inner spaces of the human being, is not accessible to definition at all.  It is not fixed.  It is undefined and unpredictable.  Fixedness, predictability, following predetermined rules - all these are remote indeed from the inner spaces of human consciousness.

For accuracy's sake we must point out that 'becoming,' or 'unfolding,' although central to the dynamic of the created universe, is not necessarily discernible at every level of creation.  In fact, inanimate objects seem most characterized by fixedness; with vegetative growth, it is slightly less so. 

Even the animal does not really diverge from the realm of the established pattern, despite the fact that its fixedness is of a kind that permits certain changes.  These changes are more readily discernible than the severely limited processes of change found in the developmental stages of plants and inanimate objects.

The human race is not of any of these patterns.  It diverges entirely from the realm of fixedness, and the definition of 'unfolding' relates precisely to its condition.  If we may continue to use this distinction - if we may differentiate between developing and unfolding - we find that it applies even among human beings:

There are people for whom fixedness is a predominant characteristic, while the process of unfolding is less discernible in them.  Such is the case with the very young child, and such is the case with the very simple and uncomplicated individual.  He attains a state of completed development much earlier than the highly complex or qualitative individual. 

The more multi-faceted one is, the more comprised of many and various qualities, the later one arrives at permanence.  It would not be far from the truth to call the highly qualitative and richly talented person a creature in a continuous state of unfolding.

Yet, there is an opposite side to this coin.  Too much flux - too much of the condition of perpetual change - puts the personality at risk.  It threatens that minimum of fixedness that does exist, that is necessary and indispensable for the basic image of the self.

To threaten this basic, non-negotiable level of stability is to invite personal deterioration.  It is to sink into the abyss, and disintegrate.  The normal human condition is one of composite wholeness, comprised of many aspects merged and functioning together.  To disintegrate is to break the composition down to its separate and distinct components - what is termed the process of entropy in the language of physics.

If we would wish to define the difference between Jew and non-Jew, we might perhaps attribute to the Jew a distinguishing trait of being continuously unfolding. 

Otherwise how to explain the restlessness, the effervescence, the constant movement, the rapid and radical changes of perspective, the swings from one extreme to another that characterize the Jew; a phenomenon quite disturbing to the outside observer, and also quite disturbing to the Jew himself. 

What of the neurotic and relentless quest after new truths; the endless search for the endlessly elusive utopia?  These searches can be most disconcerting; they are just as likely to lead backward as to lead forward.

Consider also the Jew's lack of consideration for the facts of reality, and his peculiar interpretation of them.  It is amazing by its very absence of logic, by the strange and subjective combinations he makes of the objective facts in the field - a peculiar mix of principles and facts, of dream and reality.  Ideals and existential compulsion fuse together into a matrix that is characterized more by change than by any constancy of feature.

Do not bother the typical Jew with facts.  It is a simple matter for him to reach the point where he cannot stop himself from crossing red lines that he himself has drawn.  And we must not forget the fear of the unknown.  This is the archetype of all fear, and it is the Jew's bread and butter. 

Care to establish rapport with an uncommunicative Jew?  Bring up the subject of health; you are assured of boundless sympathy.  Jewish anxiety over health vies only with the notorious Jewish anxiety over earning a living. And what of the guilt that gnaws at the Jew, that undermines his confidence in his own ability (an ability usually greater than that of the people seeking to undermine his confidence in it) but too much has already been said and written on this subject.  Can it be mere coincidence that it was the Jews who invented psychology out of thin air?  "Being out of non-being…"

"Shabat comes, rest comes."  Can it be?  It happens instantaneously.  There is a certain moment - among the flickering moments of twilight - that is no more than the blink of an eye…Shabat is suddenly here.  An invisible hand sweeps across the horizon, wiping anxiety away…and fear…and the distresses of existence - they have melted away, they are gone.  Is it possible?  What is Shabat's power to work this wonder?

The covenant between God and Jew that is called Shabat, operates at the level of reciprocity; it is a mutual relationship between equals.  A brit of equality transpires between the Creator and the work of his hands.  That is - on Shabat, creature becomes creator. 

The Creator of the universe bestows of his unlimited creative power upon the Jew who keeps Shabat. 

The resting that is demanded of the Jew on Shabat is not necessarily a resting of the body, but rather a rest from the fatigue of time and from the distresses of existence.  Shabat rest is built upon liberation from the struggle for survival.  The basis of the survival system is fear and anxiety - especially when we consider the Jew: Confronting the struggle for survival, the Jew feels a heavy yoke of responsibility; he bears the weight of the entire universe upon his shoulders. 

But on Shabat, God commands a Jew to take a break - it is time out from the fight for existence.  The Jew must transfer responsibility, now, to the real owner, to the Creator of the universe. A new definition of rest thus rises out of the Shabat experience.  It is discovery.  One discovers the role that is unique to the godly presence that is oneself.  The purpose of one's existence is examined in this new light. 

Specific personal qualities, specific expressions of talent, abilities that are unique to oneself alone: All of these are perceived with new reverence.  For it is expressing your specific personal quality, rather than anxiety over your struggle for existence, that truly fulfills the will of the Creator.  And if you fulfill the will of your Creator, you find that the Creator Himself, in all His glory, occupies Himself with protecting your existence - in the sense of "cast the burden of your existence upon God and he will sustain you."

During the course of the week, this great truth becomes rusted; gradually it is covered with dust.  It is impossible to clean it off during the workweek.  How will it shine forth in all its pristine purity?  Man is too desperately confronting the business of survival. 

"One who immerses [for purity] with an insect in his hand - his immersion is ineffective."  He must set aside the business of self-preservation.  He must clear a space in his heart, a quiet place where he is free, where he can contemplate the things that are important.

This turning away from the rule of the jungle, automatically pushes ego aside.  Ego, and self-preservation, are mechanical systems characterized by sheer absence of content.  Meaning and content are marginal factors in the world of ego. 

How different things look when "I" - the inner self, the abode of quality, the focus of creative and original being - demands center stage.  "I" is not satisfied with laboring for its mere existence, because such toil expresses no quality.  It is a blind machine; one presses the appropriate button and the machine is activated by external stimulus.

 "I" disdains such manipulation.  "I" is the representative of the spirit; it is all quality, it is all supreme value.  It has one main interest: Realizing the image of God that is in man.  When "I" is freed, it is drawn upward, to cooperate with its Creator as one equal with another.

A sacred covenant is signed on Shabat.  It is between man and his Creator.  "I" is manifest most clearly on Shabat, because Shabat frees it from its confinement, from the "hiddenness of [God's] face" which normally characterizes its worldly existence.

Personal preoccupation with the labor of survival is a one-directional involvement from inner to outer.  It empties man of the vitality whose source is in "I."  Ego is the true thief.  Ego robs "I" of its infinite creative vitality, and ego never troubles itself to return what it has stolen.  Ego's demands actually starve one's authentic human needs, as the Talmud implies:  "If you satisfy it - it starves; if you starve it - it is satisfied."

In contrast to ego, "I" is an active partner in the work of creativity.  In doing "I'"s work, one's vitality is never drained, rather it is renewed and increased. 

When "I" cleaves to its task, the entire personality - in all its uniqueness, in all its original primal power - finds full and free creative expression.  Thus, we find that it is precisely on Shabat that man is truly creative, precisely at the moment of rest from the struggles of survival.

With this perspective, we may interpret the prohibition against labor on Shabat as a prohibition against personal involvement in the business of struggling for survival.  Personal involvement includes conscious intentional involvement in the fray of existence.  The Torah prohibits the "premeditated task."

On the contrary, spiritual creativity, clean and free of the struggle for survival, is the order of the day.  It starts at the inner self and it travels higher and higher until it reaches the summit of the universe.  Compare this with the survival mechanism.  It starts at the inner self but it gets no further than the external environment. 

We see that the Shabat involvement expresses "being," and nothing more.  There is no mechanical doing, one does not serve, nor bow to the dictates of the external environment.  In this way, Shabat awakens "I," who is rooted in God.  Shabat strengthens "I," and focuses it.  The personality centers in round its own creative and qualitative purpose. 

Thus does Shabat preserve a man from his tendency to disintegrate into separate elements, and thus does Shabat consolidate the unique and original quality that is his "I."  Here we begin to comprehend Maimonides' amazing prescription, "the potion for benefit and confidence:"

"...Take some roots of Shabat, some essence of praise and awareness, and some essence of joy and confidence.  Remove the pits of anguish and anxiety.  Take of the flower of the pomegranates of knowledge and insight, add roots of patience and acceptance, grind everything in a mill of self-effacement, and cook everything in the pot of humility.  Knead with sweetened words and emulsify in a solution of grace and lovingkindness.  Feed to the sick one, suffering from despair
...the patient will rest and grow calmer..."  (Sefer Hanimtsa)

It would be legitimate to wonder what Shabat has to do with the repair of character.  What has Shabat to do with the work of midot - with attaining inner harmony?  Shabat is classically perceived as the basic principle supporting the man/God relationship.  Yet here we find Maimonides' "prescription." 

How is it that this spiritual giant assumes that Shabat is fundamental to personal balance, to personal growth, to one's own relationship with one's self?

According to our thesis, however, this perception is self-evident and inevitable.  For it is Shabat that endows a man with his own original personality.  Shabat preserves and protects him from the abuses of the physical universe by freeing him from the prison of survival. 

"A prisoner cannot release himself from jail."
[12]  Without Shabat, a Jew is imprisoned in the cell of survival; his image grows gradually blurred; he is drained - inexorably - of his quality and his creative vitality.

If the five senses are what dictate your perception of reality, if external reality is all that counts for you, then you are indeed imprisoned in a cell of your own making; this is the inevitable result. 

A Jew needs to grasp reality at the dimension of height.  A Jew's reality is the world of creativity; only here can he find free expression for the originality and uniqueness that comprise his individual private personality. 

Shabat provides a Jew with the foundation and with the conditions necessary for approaching reality from this perspective.  Thus, Shabat sees to it that the dimension of height occupies a central position in the Jew's worldview.

No observance of any of the mitsvot by which man relates to God and by which man relates to his fellow, would be possible in any way, were it not for the perspective bestowed by Shabat.

"The serpent cannot kill.  Only sin can kill."
[14] Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa remarked serenely, having allowed the serpent to bite him in order that it should die.  Shabat assures a Jew of liberation from dependency upon the laws of material nature. 

Only Shabat, as the foundation for all the other mitsvot, and the study of the Torah as well, are able to grant this privilege: Only the keepers of Shabat can break out of the prison of the survival mechanism.  Only they can beat the system.  Indeed, it is possible for them to leave it behind entirely.


What does Shabat have that other mitsvot do not? 

Chazal, the sages of the Talmud, teach us: There are two mitsvot - two primal elements - that existed before the universe itself: Torah
[15] and Shabat.  "An exquisite thing have I treasured away in my treasure house and Shabat is its name."[16] 

Shabat preceded the creation of the universe: The act of creation entailed the separation of object from subject.  That is, a separation took place Creator and created. 

All created beings are subject to this law of separation, to the law of object/subject distinction, and this includes human beings. 

This law cannot be ignored.  To do so, is to risk disconnecting from the laws of nature.  It is to risk moving toward disintegration of one's own compounded being.  For after all, a human being is the most perfect example of integration in the created universe. 

To preserve this integration, one must respect the laws of nature, and the laws that govern the process of disintegration.  These laws derive from the principle of separateness.  Separateness derives from the act of creation itself.

Shabat, and study of Torah, are the only opportunities that one has to return to one's 'pre-creation' roots of ideal unity. 

Ideal unity may be defined as unity that is achieved between opposing forces.  For opposition is a central motif characterizing the created universe.

First and foremost on the list of opposing forces is the conflict between subject and object.  The ramifications of this conflict are vast in scope.  They include many other dichotomous relationships, such as permanence/change, heaven/earth, spirit/matter, rational intelligence/emotion, sacred/secular, thought/deed, and rest/movement. 

Each of these is a conflict between two separate spheres.  To ignore this principle, to ignore the intrinsic separateness inherent in the natural world is to try to catch a glimpse of utopia…but it is a deceptive, illusory vision.  One can only be hurt by this futile effort, because separateness is a thorn hopelessly embedded in one's flesh, in the very fact of one's physical existence.  It must be recognized.

Yet here comes Shabat...bringing one back to the very roots of unity, of wholeness - to the ideal conditions that preceded one's creation, that preceded the creation of the universe itself. 

The Talmud warns that this is potent stuff:  "A non-Jew who has kept Shabat incurs a death penalty." 

It is hazardous, cautions the Talmud, to attempt to return to one's own original primal connection - to one's source in God - by ways that do not pass through the created universe and through its existing frameworks.  On the lower level, this framework refers to natural laws, to the processes and conflicts inherent in nature.  On a higher level, there is the framework of Torah and mitsvot.  A non-Jew - because he does not bear the yoke of Torah and mitsvot - cannot attempt to connect to his source in God by way of Shabat alone.  To do so would be to forfeit his natural existence.

"...Because the souls of the children of Israel, from beneath the wings of the Shechina, are from a place of unity; which is not the case with any other nation, rather [they come] from a place of separation.  But this thing is not discernible among Israel except on the day of Shabat, when He - be He blessed - sends an abundance of sanctity to every person of Israel, each and every one according to the root of that soul as it is to be found beneath the wings of the Shechina.  In this way we find that a man cleaves to his Possessor, for He pours spirit upon us from the height of the wings of His Shechina, unseparated from His own being, and thus we are found attaching ourselves to Him, be He blessed, and separating from externality.  Therefore - in that on the day of Shabat we are being united toward the source of our own souls and distancing ourselves from separation - therefore we have been commanded against carrying, out of the private realm - this is an allusion to the realm to which we are attached - into the public realm.  This is an allusion to the world of separateness from whence come the rest of the nations.  Also [we are forbidden] to carry in [from one realm to another realm] for [in so doing] one has mixed sacred into secular, or secular into sacred - it is all one.  This is comparable - and we find here juxtaposition - to all the other labors [that are forbidden on Shabat]; because labor is an evocation of the secular world, because it is to that world that labor addresses itself, and the resting of Shabat is an evocation of the supreme, great and sacred world.  Therefore, in that the supplementary soul from the supreme world is found in man [on Shabat], so that if he labors, it is as if he mixes the most supreme sanctity with the secular, and the only law for this is death, for he is cutting down [the seedlings] God forbid..." (Parshat Pikudei)

Notice here that Alshich alludes to an entirely individualized relationship: On Shabat God is connecting directly, and attending specifically, to each single individual Jew who keeps Shabat. 

Here is a relationship of renewal, of a return to one's own source, to the original element that one once was, before ever descending into this world of dividedness.  Hence the capacity for renewal - even to the extent of re-creation - of the personality through observance of Shabat (and through study of Torah, for the Torah too preceded the created universe). 

Thus does Shabat make the man, protecting his integrity from entropy, from danger, from rupture and disintegration.  Shabat creates reality anew; a tangible new reality of mitsva, a reality whose raison d'etre is for the sake of the human being. 

This new reality - the world of Shabat - is the world of yetsira.  Here a human being is an active and powerful partner, creating anew and being created anew, shedding the secular skins of a divided world.

From Shabat, you go forth into the world of the secular.  You do not revert to the days of the week.  Rather you go forth to greet them, armed with your new approach.  You are fragrant with the scent of the Garden of Eden.  Its scent follows you through the week, from the very first day of the new week, until the eve of the following Shabat.  You can look forgivingly upon the days of the week, you can smile at the conflict and contradiction that plagued you, back in your earlier period - prior to your Shabat renewal.

History can be seductively persuasive, for after all, the facts speak for themselves.  Join one fact to another and you have induction.  Yet, philosophers are becoming aware of the logical problems inherent in inductive conclusions:

History records the flow of events along the course of time.  The weakness of such an approach stems from the fact that flow, by nature, controls the objects that are found in its state. 

In the state of flow, the activity of an object is measured rather than its substance.  Or to use our terminology, flow measures "doing," and fails to measure "being."  Flow creates a dynamic system, a container.  The container is primary, its content only secondary.  Results are more important than substance, than principles, than values. 

The instrumental, result-oriented system devours the human affinity for value.  Gone are human sensitivities and values; a human being possesses value only insofar as he is an instrument effecting events.  Flow sets the pace and the causal sequence of events; substance is ignored.

How ideal it would be if one could relate simultaneously to both flow and focus.  It is this blend that Shabat emphasizes.  On Shabat, flow arrives home, and drops anchor.  The coast is safe - quiet and transparent; its clarity penetrates through all layers of time.  Flow and focus merge into one entity:  "Being" merges with "doing", to their mutual benefit.  It is the ideal relationship.  It is the way that quality is meant to relate to quantity -  and  intensive study to extensive study, and the private realm to the public realm, and intention to deed.

For this reason, the halacha specifically focuses upon these elements - upon transferring from the private to the public domain and vice versa, upon intention and upon thought.  These are determining factors in the prohibitions of Shabat.

Environmental forces create flow, as do the laws of gravity and external pressures.  Flow is not born of inner motivation.  It is born of servitude - it is a condition of belonging to the environment without the complementary condition of freedom from the environment. 

Flow is the movement of an object unconnected and uncontrolled by human consciousness. 

If a human being were to relate exclusively to the flow mode, never once focusing upon his own existence, he would eventually be swept away - just another object flowing down the stream; ultimately he would lose contact with his own existence.

Focus is what a human being does in order to express the human ability to control environmental activity.  One who imposes his own creative will upon the external environment, attains the union - the encounter - between subject and object. 

A human being who is willing to grant qualitative attention to his environment, who is willing to relate to his own specific existential conditions through full and conscious personal intention, will find it transformed under his hands.  He will find that his conditions become richly meaningful.  They have been turned into an objective container richly filled with subjective content. 

Focus does this.  Focus does not halt flow in order to arrest flow, but rather in order to charge it with meaning, to transform it into the tool by which the human being, the "crown of creation," expresses itself.

There are those who believe that focus should be used to arrest flow and to do away with it entirely.  Who needs the external environment, they say.  All one needs is subjective spiritual experience. 

This is an error.  This approach to existence can drain the natural life force.  The physical environment is never appreciated, and never allowed to renew one's sources of physical vitality. 

To strip the environment of its natural flow is to render it an empty and useless vessel.  Flow without focus is as focus without flow: A world without man, or man without a world - a ship without a captain or a captain without a ship - equally useless.



Chazal compare resting on Shabat to the blow of the sledgehammer: The power of impact is created at the moment the hammer comes to rest, at the moment immediately following its swift descent.

 Indeed, it is the imminent moment of rest that loads the descent with such great power.  It is a mystery, this power.  It is the secret of control, quite well known to every true master of the martial arts. 

The master weighs action against rest - movement against pause - attaining the flawless equilibrium of poise versus counterpoise.  The weapon that he wields is perfect balance, and it is formidable.

"Remember the day of Shabat" includes the positive commandment to rest  (...the sledgehammer comes to rest).  "Guard the day of Shabat" refers to negative commandments, to controlling the dynamics of activity (…the sledgehammer in descent).

  The negative commandments are those that prohibit labor on Shabat.  This prohibition of labor deals with and encompasses the meanings, intentions, and thoughts that are the motivating forces leading to labor. 

These elements - which address themselves to the inner human process as it relates to the external act - are required, along with the objective action, in order for labor to constitute a prohibited act. 

We might say that prohibiting labor for the sake of Shabat constitutes a merging of flow with focus - a merging of the descent and the impact into one entity.  For it is only in their merger that they are effective.  Laboring to attain material means, when this labor is not directed toward a sublime goal, drains the human being.  Conversely, sublime goals alone, which one never labors to express by material means are devoid of substance.

The commandment - "Remember the day of Shabat to sanctify it" - exalts the human creature.  It raises him from a dimension of subjection and subservience to the dimension of height.  It frees him, and it empowers him.  It places him in control: He controls the descent of the sledgehammer, as well as its impact.  He is to lead reality in the direction that he chooses, toward a destiny that he determines.

The types of labor that are prohibited on Shabat reflect this purpose.  'Selecting' is forbidden, and 'carrying' from one domain to another.  Prohibiting these activities means prohibiting the detachment of flow from focus. 

Similarly with all Shabat prohibitions:

The prohibitions on Shabat are designed to keep the human being in control, to create a mutually complementary balance between activity and rest, and to ascertain that human beings maintain control over this balance.

Shabat keeps the six days of the week from coming apart.  These are two entirely separate modes of existence whose characters are diametrically opposed to one another.  Shabat prevents a permanent rift. 

Shabat will not allow external reality to flow uncontrolled, unmediated by human consciousness, nor will it allow the inner human consciousness to follow its own subjective imaginings, unmediated by tangible reality. 

Shabat transfers the human experience of existence from an outer mode to an inner mode, attaching it to a reality that is essentially human - and that contains all three dimensions: Inner, outer, and higher (values/ideals). 

The yearning to live "for the sake of heaven" must pass through action performed "for the sake of mitsva."  Spiritual need must be expressed through practical activity.


Out of the merger of utilitarian goals with spiritual goals grows a quintessentially human experience.  This experience can only be described as the sensation of presence. 

The sensation of presence requires that experience be built of a three-dimensional reality.  It must combine subjective thought, conscious intent, and practical action:

Thought is that which combines ideas, values, and spirituality with emotion.  Thought then consolidates these elements within the inner spaces of "I."

Conscious intent is that which connects the qualities of thought with the tangible situation that is here and now.

Practical action is that which ultimately transforms quality into tangible presence; this is the union between man, Creator and universe.

In the absence of this sense of presence, in the absence of Shabat, a human being is susceptible to arrogance and also to despair:

"The Torah has forbidden 'premeditated labor.'"  This is a signal to the arrogant, who believe in their own power and in their own strong arm.  They deny the Creator of the universe. 

Therefore, the lesson of Shabat befits the six days of the week.  For without Shabat, God forbid, one is cut off - search as one may - from any ultimate authority.  One sinks deeper into the swamp of existence - and there is no solid ground there...and so one loses control over one's existence. 

The sensation is one of detachment.  Alienation and a dread of existence accompany the man who has lost the sense of his own height.  He is soon caught and pulled down. 

He becomes immersed in the mechanics of toil, which bow to no human authority, which are the distorted offspring of external reality, and which ultimately enslave the man, making of him a puny cog, devoid of quality, devoid of any consciousness of his own value.

Once he loses consciousness his own value, he has become a blind and oblivious instrument.  He becomes a mechanical servant to a meaningless reality.

But when there is presence, one's world becomes powerfully significant, and one's self most powerful of all.  The sensation of presence is so powerful as to replace, and to eliminate the need to pursue certainty.  For after all, who pursues certainty? 

The need for absolute certainty is born of absolute despair.  It is born of the desperate (but artificial, and futile) effort to fill a vacuum created by existential terror.  A perpetual dread of existence - that has no consistent focus - is the constant companion of the pursuer of certainty.  This existential dread is born of a human being's enslavement to the machine-like mechanisms of survival.


"And so it is written:  'And on the seventh day He did Sabbath and He did soul.'  What does this mean, 'and He did soul?'  This teaches that the day of Sabbath upholds all the souls, for it says, 'and He did soul.'"

Ohr HaChaim calls Shabat "the thing that upholds".  He defines it as the foundation that gives permanence to reality.[18]  From this perspective, we may view Shabat as a destination.  Our journey toward this destination begins with adventure, yet it is paved with travail, and with the tribulation that all men must pass in their search for truth.  But what could be more precious, what could be worthier of travail, than truth?

Chazal, the sages of the Talmud, deter us.  They point out that the search for truth is paved with difficulty.  They remind us that when God wished to create Man, He advised first with His heavenly court.  Truth - who was a member of the court - did not favor Man's creation.  For Truth maintained that man is wholly deceitful.[19] 

The Creator of the universe rejected Truth's advice, for He willed to create man.  Truth was cast down to earth, instead, by the Creator, and compelled to join Man: "Truth from earth shall grow."

 Perhaps Truth wished to avenge itself, for it bit into Man - and this was well before the snake's bite; for the snake cast its venom into the human race at a much later point.  Man felt Truth's bite, and was transformed.

From that moment on, he could no longer live without truth. 

As long as there is breath of life in man, he feels that he must have truth.  He longs for it, and he must go in search of it, and he must inspect every consequence and every achievement by its light.

Thus is man's existence attached - riveted - to the true, despite his being a great admirer of the false.  He lives in truth's shadow; truth is always spoiling his show and ruining his pretense.  Truth cools man's heated and frenzied delight in the lie.

At the early, primitive stage, man seeks truth in objective reality, in the world of facts.  He must go and invent instruments, so that he can examine the truth.  He does not sense, and he still has not sensed, his increasing subservience to the instruments that he himself creates.  Thus is formed an instrumental reality, persuasive by virtue of its possession of the facts.

However, it tends to go the way of all instruments: When a new and more sophisticated one appears, you throw the old one out.  You adopt the new instrument, for it will do the work in your place, if not necessarily in your interests. 

Eventually you lose control of the system.  You feel your contact with reality not as the touch of your hand upon the cane, but as the touch of your cane upon the ground; the point of encounter is between the cane and the ground. 

The fact that human perception of objective reality grows thus distant and distorted may not be so serious.  Consider however, the grave consequences of attempting to investigate one's own subjective self, using the instruments that one has created. 

Imagine believing that one can comprehend, through instrumental techniques, one's own emotions, thoughts, dreams and aspirations, in short, one's inner world, home of the infinite and measureless quality of "I," originality's abode, and creativity's.

This realm does not yield to research instruments of any sort, for such instruments are designed for a fixed (limited) physical reality.  Therefore, permanence (limitedness) characterizes them. 

Even physical sensation - that human experience most closely related to the material world - has been found incompatible with - and inaccessible to - scientific research, due to science's complete and utter dependency upon instrumental means.  Seen from this perspective, one is no longer perplexed by the total failure of the behavioral "sciences."

This primitive stage, the search for "objective" truth within the external reality of objects, does not assuage man's distressing hunger, and yet one cannot do without this stage because after all, truth without the weight of objectivity is no truth.

Desperation drove Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.  He was desperate, despite the fact that he had been endowed with utter profundity of absolute knowledge of all the mysteries of the created universe.  He felt desperate, despite the fact that he could "see from one end of the universe to its other end."  He felt desperate, despite the fact that he did not know the meaning of physical boundaries, for after all he had been created from the Absolute, so that the limitations of space and time did not exist for him.  Furthermore he had never tasted of death.  Despite all this, still and all and nevertheless, he sensed that the very fact of being a creation composed of dichotomy disturbed his tranquility. 

The mere fact of dichotomy threatened his confidence.  His Creator was constantly requiring him to stand guard, to maintain a state of alert, a never-ending watch over the dynamic that He had created, in the endless conflict between spirit and matter. 

Adam must forever persevere in his untiring efforts to maintain this sensitive balance - a balance not attained unless by the constant standing of one's guard. 

 Despite the fact that Adam ruled over spirit, which ruled absolutely over matter, in the period before the sin, still he felt threatened.  He sensed that he lacked full control. 

 Adam perceived that the universe was based exclusively on the rules of physical matter.  Only he, Man, was out of place in the created universe.

Chazal convey his sense of frustration in Adam's complaint to his Creator:  "Everyone has a mate, but I have no one."[20]  And Adam would not be satisfied until God gave him Chava as his wife, as his physically present partner. 

So man ruled matter, and he ruled Woman who represented matter to him.  She was better at it than he - at bonding with matter and at bonding with him - at connecting to the environment and to the other. 

But Man was still not satisfied with this arrangement, for he controlled matter only indirectly, only through an intermediary (through the spirit, or through the woman). 

Along comes the snake with a seductive idea: Why not have spiritual knowledge pass through the medium of physical matter - that's that tree over there.  Its fruit is very interesting in that it's made up of a special kind of substance that is actually able to physically contain spiritual knowledge. 

It's really so.  If you only want it, spirit can take on the look of tangibility; it can have the feeling of an object.  You'll be able to feel and touch truth just as you now can feel and touch any object that possesses tangible substance. 

Adam did not perceive that this process would be accompanied by a substantial reduction of truth's stature, that truth's endless vistas would be forced to shrink in order to squeeze into the narrow straits of finite, limited material reality, that truth would be lowered from the realm of the absolute to the realm of the relative.

Rambam explains this in Moreh Nevuchim.  Eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil degraded truth, for by this action man lost the capacity to distinguish between true and false - these are distinctions expressed in absolute terms.  Now man would tend to distinguish between good and evil - a relative concept: What seems good to me may seem evil to you...

Thus did man renounce absolute truth for the sake of a relative truth, for a truth that was not whole.  Thus did eating from the Tree of Knowledge give Adam a sense of tangibility.  Adam thought to adopt this tangibility instead of truth, for truth seemed to him too abstract and too spiritual to be the instrument enabling him to do as he pleased. 

But Adam quickly discovered that the distinctions between good and evil that had penetrated the material realm were not adequate to the task of elucidating goals and ideals for him. This new, materialized-but-shrunk form of truth could clarify only the most basic utilitarian considerations, those drawn from the realm of survival-oriented activity.  The sublime needs, the realm of the spirit, had been left outside of reality's sphere. 

Adam discovered to his disappointment that eating from the Tree of Knowledge could not serve as a substitute for intelligence, for intellect, for the need for ideals and spirituality, for fulfillment of the higher needs. 

Yet, not only the higher needs, for as it turned out, even survival's needs were not an independent entity.  It seemed that even they could not thrive in man without spirit; they were nothing but one component in an entire experience of existence that encompassed also morality, conscience and spiritual experience.  For "man does not live by bread alone". 

In the absence of spirituality, man felt that somehow something had cracked; a fissure had formed in his experience of existence.  There was now something new called the realm of the unknown.  It would be a realm inaccessible by means of tangible reality.

When spirituality is absent, one feels a rift, a crack in one's very sense of being.  One feels that unknown forces loom just beyond the horizon, and that they are inaccessible to the material and tangible evidence of one's senses. 

One must call the unknown by the name of mysticism, as if it were a realm unto itself, governed by its own rules.  One must pretend that the right knowledge of the right rules could grant one power and control over this infinite, inaccessible, and terrifying vista.

However, common sense does not permit a rational man to cast his lot with such attitudes, nor with their so-called rules and principles for operating in the dimension of the unknown.  Fantasy, illusion, far-fetched sensory distortion - these are the legacy of fools and of the weak-minded. 

Any intelligent person can see that so-called control over the realm of the unknown is a hallucination, the ultimate childish fantasy.  It is an illusion.  It refuses to recognize tangible reality.  Only by deluding oneself can one believe that it is possible to circumvent, and even control, the limitations of time and space. 

So the intelligent man must push aside his longings for the absolute.  He must relegate them to the department of myths and fairy tales.

This realm has its own hierarchy of experts.  They, of course, see to their own constituency.  They take care to populate the unknown, filling it to suffocation with phenomena that only they truly understand: Demons, ghosts, invisible men, instantaneous transport, levitation, and all the rest of futility, taken from their own dreams, from their own detachment from reality.

Except that something remains, to torment even the modern man, who arrogantly presumes to use only his rational mind.  Consider the mere fact that the human spirit cannot let go of its relationship to mysticism.

Obviously, there is something to it, admits the rationalist in his moment of frankness, or in his moment of weakness.  For example, when he finds himself in a stressful situation over which rational means do not prevail. 

It would not do to make light of the power of the unknown.  Even they who hold tight to the struggle for survival as to their only reality, have known the torment of the unknown. 

The limitations of space and time which the rationalist has adopted for himself cause him boredom at best and suffocation at worst.  The rationalist has willingly renounced the right to ride on the wings of imagination.  This accounts for your rationalist's conceptual aridity and for his intellectual poverty, for he confines himself within the four walls of materialistic realism. 

His reductive tendencies eventually relegate his reality to the junk pile: 

Time and again, his reality threatens - it does this quite regularly, on and off recurrently, during different periods of human history - to turn him into an instrument.  Once he has entered the instrumental reality, man becomes a complex but rather limited tool, for which one can always find a substitute.  There is always another tool that will do man's job better. 

Yet, this is exactly man's greatest fear.  Being turned into an instrument is unbearable to him and fills him with unspeakable dread.  So he runs back into the arms of the unknown, to mysticism in its latest guise.  One symptom is escapism.  He flees from painful reality in moments of distress.  Another symptom is the complete absence of any sense of inner vision.

In desperation, man concludes that he can believe only in himself.  Soon he 'hears voices.'  He begins to obey his 'gut feelings.'  He bows to powers that are the fruit of his own imagination, and it is an imagination grown feverish with existential torment. 

At his latest stage, in his ultimate despair, he finally denies the existence of any truth in any form.  This is known as: "Every man has his own truth." 

This last and final renunciation of truth drives him straight into the arms of the absurd: Ice is hot, evil is good, the victim is guilty, and the murderer deserves compassion. 

Post-modernism celebrates its victory in the kingdom of darkness: The existence of one absolute truth becomes a foreign concept; no one has heard of it.  The 'dimension of height' is absent; as are ideals, and sublime goals. 

This latest state of affairs appears to invite capricious behavior; one no longer requires actual reasons for specific actions; an increasingly instrument-oriented attitude is encouraged.  Ignorance dances on a fool's grave.

Yet man is intransigent.  Very soon he has changed the rules of the game again.  These new rules - in the period of post-despair - are not even required to demonstrate any connection at all, neither to one another, nor to existential reality, nor to any body of knowledge.  One must merely surround oneself with high-sounding (if disconnected) phrases, with metaphor, with rules of play and of ritual, and with other forms of exhibitionism.

These can be very impressive (for a very brief moment).  Upon this world of illusion and delusion man bestows the status of art, for he has ceased to seek meaning in the values within art. 

Thus the golem of art is created.  Not only is it devoid of artistic content, it rapidly loses even the barest forms of art.  This is the extreme end of the human behavioral spectrum, set in the context of the instrumental approach to existence.

At the other extreme of the instrumental approach to existence, we find an opposite, yet peculiarly similar, phenomenon: This is the grim and inhuman fanaticism that is disguised as religion. 

It is based upon the sort of ignorance that justifies viciousness, and that supports only the barest and flimsiest forms of morality - for the sake of appearance.  It does not even pretend to be humane; there is only ritual, devoid of spiritual or human content.  This parody has supplanted the profound and powerful bond that is meant to link man with his Creator. 

The illusion of a proliferation of many truths creates pluralism of religions, and of idolatries.  They are the fruit of imagination fleeing truth.

The clearest sign that it is the lie that rules over these expressions of sickness, is their characteristically destructive pendulum motif: The adherent swings back and forth between self-loathing and self-delusion. 

This pattern constitutes a central axis within all of the new (and some of the old) religions, whose common denominator is restlessness, and short range of effect:

Masochism and self-torment cannot be born past a certain point.  After that point, a reverse reaction sets in.

One imposes the guilt that one can no longer bear - upon another human being.  This is accompanied by an intense hatred for one's fellow human being - a hatred that increases as one's own distress increases.  The rotten fruit of racism is one product of this process.  Attributing evil intentions to one's victim is another.

The result is a unique phenomenon: Masochism of a type that also erases all sensitivity to the needs of other human beings.  One lives then a miserable existence indeed.  Matters are determined by every caprice of every passing moment, by an absence of justification for one's existence, by knowing no pleasure other than destruction, and by accelerating the vicious cycle of misery.

Bitten by the truth on the one hand, and by the snake on the other, man rushes back and forth between the two.  He has turned the joyous human condition, rich in creative challenge, into an existential tragedy.  He faces life helplessly; there is no delight to his existence... 

As the inevitable next step arising out of his distress, he becomes filled with hatred for the entire universe, and indeed even for the Creator of the universe.  From here, he moves in the inevitable direction of self-hatred...and then he starts all over again - a vicious cycle - turning existential reality into apocalyptic hell.

Such is the eviction from the Garden of Eden.  It is a dead end, and a one way street.  There is no way out of the sense of detachment from one's own existential needs.  One can never escape the sense that one must settle for mere mechanical fulfillment of needs: One must simply pretend to ignore the needs felt by the human spirit. 

Of course, one can always escape to the unknown if things get too bad…One can always detach from reality, and deny the value of human beings, and of reality, and even of life itself…  

We have portrayed - A Soul in Flight from Truth.

Along comes the Torah, with a rather surprising suggestion.  See here, human being: Don't bother with pure and absolute truth.  For "not in heaven is it."  Seek it in its new form.  Don't you know?  It has been cast down to earth, by the Creator.   It's not up there any more, in its high and mighty home in the heavens. Why, it is within hand's reach.

"Not in heaven is it that you would say, 'who can go up to heaven for us, and bring it to us, and tell it to us and we shall do it.  And not across the sea is it, that you would say, 'who can cross to the other side of the sea for us, and bring it to us, and tell it to us and we shall do it.  Rather the thing is very close to you - in your own mouth and in your own heart to do it."[21]

Truth has moved into the human microcosm.  Here is its new breeding ground - within man himself.  Man determines where he will raise truth.  "Truth from earth shall grow."[22] 

Truth first begins within "I."  "I" contains absolute truth, yet it is fitted to every individual expression.

  Any original, qualitative, value-oriented spark of an idea, as it is expressed by any particular human being, any action initiated by "I" in order to enhance "I," (as opposed to enhancing ego, which diminishes "I," both one's own "I" and that of others) represents absolute truth.  It is an expression of the 'godly spark' within man.

 Man - using "I" - attires truth gloriously, in the garb of reality.  He transforms truth into tangible presence.  "Truth from earth shall grow" grants its own value to physical reality and becomes transformed into living and breathing presence.

Truth clothed in tangibility is able to fulfil every possible human need: The physical senses bask in its fragrance, the rational mind steps in line with it, even imagination and emotion rejoice in it, as bride and groom rejoice who have found one another at last.  Joy abounds.  How is this?


A bride was affixed to the six days of the week, one split second before they could commit suicide - out of pure sheer despair, for they had lost the purpose of their existence.

Shabat tastes a bit like mahn.  (The mahn in the desert could taste like anything you chose.)  If you wish, the taste of Shabat will satisfy your physical hunger and sensual need.  "Meat and fish and all delicacies."

If you are concerned that physical sensation will push spirituality aside - well, Shabat offers the sacred as well.  It has the dimension of height; it has room for the godly imperative - more room than any of the other mitsvot, in fact.  For after all it is an expression in common with the Creator of the universe in all His glory, for after all, He, too, participates in the keeping of Shabat and in the making of Shabat.

Yet mainly, Shabat expresses the human self.

There are two faces to Shabat: There is "guard," and there is "remember."  "Guard" refers to the negative commandments, to the prohibition against labor.  This frees the house from excessive elements of 'doing' that might obscure the world of 'being.' 

"Remember" refers to the positive commandments, to sanctifying Shabat outwardly and inwardly.  It refers to cleanliness and purity of house and of body, to "honoring" by thoroughly cleaning.  It refers to the clean tablecloth and the fine bed linens, to "honoring" the floor, to clothing oneself in fine garments that are especially for Shabat.  It refers to light and joy of candles lit in honor of Shabat. 

"Remember" includes "oneg Shabat," "Shabat pleasure."  "Oneg Shabat" grants legitimacy to - and indeed encourages - the physical pleasures. 

Most of all, "remember" is preoccupation with spirituality, with the sacred.  It is study of Torah and it is preoccupation with the many mitsvot of Shabat that pertain to honor and to sanctity. 

Shabat sets aside a special place in her sacred shrine for every individual.  Shabat tailors her sacred space to every individual need; she bestows sanctity upon each one to the extent that he can handle, in the amount that his soul can absorb. 

Within the protected space of Shabat, anyone may express his own soul's unique quality - his own God-derived creative powers - as discussed above.

Shabat as reciprocity:

Creator and created establish their mutual bond.  The Holy One Himself, in all His glory, keeps Shabat.  Shabat is His expression; it is expressive of the One who created the universe:  "For six days God made the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He sabbathed and He souled."

On Shabat a Jew senses that he is a partner on equal footing with the Creator of the universe; Shabat is his ticket into the sacred space, because Shabat is the expression of his own soul's quality - and God's throne is the quarry from which this quality is mined.

In truth, every act of mitsva raises a man, to the dimension of height that shelters over every mitsva, simply by virtue of its being the Lord's bidding.  What is unique to Shabat, and to the study of Torah, is that even one's body, and one's practical actions, and one's external reality become sanctified - with a sanctity so sublime as to penetrate, and to make sacred the inner qualitative space as well as the outer tangible realm. 

Therefore, Shabat provides an experience of truth that is tangible presence. Tangible experience is liberated on Shabat from the tension of survival; it is cleaned of the fear that stems from the struggle for existence. 

This fear is capable of destroying even the positive components of the existential struggle.  Tension is the culprit and anxiety over one's survival.  It prevents the individual from developing a direct and natural bond with his environment or even with his own self. 

Let it be clear that attempting to circumvent the tensions of self-preservation only makes things worse.  It can only complicate one's experience of existence.  Attempting to avoid the natural tensions is as futile as attempting to escape heaven.  Such escapism simply intensifies the lust for sensation. 

Or, alternatively, such escapism can weaken the lust for sensation to such an extent that one's simple enthusiasm for living and one's natural sources of vital energy become blocked.  So much for trying to escape the natural experience. 

Denying idealistic or spiritual goals is equally useless.  The attempt to connect only with what is obvious, natural, and animalistic does not work.  It brings one to self-loathing, and it denies one's own qualitative self; this strangles creative expression.

The presence of Shabat resolves this conflict.  It transforms ideal into tangible fact.  What is unique about this tangible fact is that it does not stand in opposition to any ideal, which is usually the way we are accustomed to perceiving matters: Reality versus ideal, life as a condition of being split between matter and spirit. 

Instead, "He who makes peace on high" is the same One Who makes "peace upon us."  Hence "Shabat Shalom:" This is the motto of Shabat.  For Shabat is the presence that brings peace to a reality that is split in half, that is steeped in conflict between opposing forces - between spirit and matter, emotion and ration, action and rest. 

The peace that Shabat brings is not the peace of compromise but rather the peace of wholeness: Rest endows action with integrity and quality.  Ration endows emotion with meaning, quality, and purpose.  The legitimization of physical matter transforms it into a vessel that bears blessings of the spirit.  And most of all, Creator and creature can come together, in one exquisite sheltering union. 

In the tangible presence of truth that is formed by Shabat, heaven and earth are linked - just as they are in Yaakov's ladder, for Yaakov is the man and the symbol of truth. 

The presence that is Shabat cancels out the human need to embrace illusion, to drift into fantasy, to escape reality, etc.  It renders superfluous all of these longings for mystical experience that are born of despair, born of the unrequited yearning for sanctity, born of the desperate longing to purify oneself of the filth of forced confinement to physical matter. 

Can matter and spirit come together in union?  It is an existential miracle, performed every single week - one part to every seven of our existence.  There is no waiting for the ultimate end of time.  One miracle follows close upon another - every week!  Happiness is within reach.  Fortunate is the believer.

For this good fortune is reserved for the believer alone.  It is for the keeper and sanctifier of Shabat.  The lost son returns home, by rising above time in order to dive back into it, armed with new power.

What is this new power?  Perhaps we can call it the power to grant time the tangible features of space:

No longer will he perceive time as a source of anxiety (future time), and no longer will he perceive time as the guilt that pursues him (past time). 

Rather, his time is a space, a presence; it is a continuing present time, in which past and future are joined.  Past and future join each other in the present moment, to receive their due repair, which is within creative reach.

The place that is called the present moment has the power to repair the past and to plan the future.  It is a presence unto itself.  It is easily attained; it awaits only "I," to step in and take control.


Shabat as repair: What does Shabat come to repair?  How does repair come about?  What need is there for it?  Chazal connect these elements in their classically cryptic fashion:

Adam felt humiliated and disgraced by his sin.  Then Cain sinned.  At this point, teshuva - the possibility of return/repentance/repair - was revealed to Adam.  Adam rejoiced, and composed "Ode-Song to the Day of Shabat."[23] 

Here we derive the classic connection between Shabat and teshuva, but what does it mean?  It appears to follow this formula: Sin-teshuva-Shabat. 

Eating from the Tree of Knowledge was the source of sin.  Repair was the discovery of the possibility of teshuva, through the discovery of Shabat as real presence, as a new reality that man, by his own power, is able to create.  Man is capable; he is the only one who can create this new real presence.  He has the power to create "the semblance of Olam Haba" - the presence that evokes Paradise.  Yes, the lost son can indeed return to his lost Paradise.

The Jewish Shabat is reserved for the Jew who keeps Shabat.  It is inaccessible and alien to the outsider, who does not believe in the capacity of human beings, who does not believe in the human power of repair, who does not believe in the Garden of Eden, who believes that Paradise is lost, Apocalypse Now, etc.

You could think that eating of the Tree of Knowledge caused man to deteriorate.  After all, in the "before" picture, a human being stood at the summit of the universe.  He served as its spiritual center, he ruled all of physical matter.  In the "after" picture, he had fallen to the lowest depths.  Utterly bewildered by his new limitations, he thrashed about in frustration and futility, treading the muddy waters of physical reality.

However, as with all heavenly punishment, its purpose was not human suffering, but rather human education - "sufferings of love."  Therefore, along with his descent to the plane of physical matter and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden, man was given the equipment necessary to transform physical matter into service of God.  He would become able to use the material world not only for his own survival in his own struggle for existence (a struggle he had never known in the Garden of Eden) but also as a tool of spiritual power. 

It is at this point that a new human ability makes its appearance; it is the capacity for repair.  Repair empowers man with new abilities and new possibilities, with a qualitatively new power that man in the Garden of Eden did not possess. 

It seems that Adam was willing to risk eating from the Tree of Knowledge in order to acquire this new power.


Thrown out of the Garden of Eden, man confronted a new reality that was utterly hostile to human existence.  "Thorn and weed," beasts of prey, brute force ruled this new world.  The law of the jungle held unbridled sway.  How could man be expected to continue his role as the godly presence within the physical universe under such circumstances, without proper conditions? 

 And so the Creator gave man "the world of creativity."  This meant the chance to create his own reality, with his own hands.  He would create a home that would contain quality, rather than merely affording shelter from the beasts and the elements. 

 "The world of creativity" means that man takes the materials from the physical "world of doing," and the ideas from the spiritual "world of creation."  He kneads them all together to form a dough.  Out of this dough, a delightful chala for Shabat emerges and rises forth.  The fragrance that wafts from it is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden.

The "world of creativity" is tailored to fit the keeper of Shabat.  For he is the one who is deserving of it.  For he "has toiled on the eve of Shabat" with the materials taken from "the world of doing."  He has endowed the materials, on Shabat, with meaningful content that he has drawn down from "the world of creation." 

Because he has done all this, these materials have been enabled to continue their existence, for another six days, until next Shabat, as explained in Or HaChaim's enchanting description. 

This repair, this truth that has grown out and risen tangibly forth from the "world of creativity" constitutes the revolutionary discovery of Teshuva. 

Teshuva is a force capable of overturning the orders of the universe and the laws of nature. 

Shabat contains the presence of this new reality that has been formed by human hands.  The human keeper of Shabat has created a reality of teshuva.  For when the subtle distinctions between good and evil - as required of one who would accomplish teshuva - are exposed to the precious light of Shabat candles, one learns the real way of sanctity, and the truest way of God's service.  For it holds room enough for both good and evil, so it appears on Shabat:

The physical is allowed to express itself.  Materialistic activity is permitted and sanctified, and the existential human condition is turned into something "reminiscent of the next world."  Physical matter turns spirituality into something tangible, and there are no objections on either side. 

"And you shall love God your Lord with all of your hearts."  With your two hearts," Chazal reveal to us.  "With your two urges."  Yes, it is possible and indeed necessary for a human being to serve his Creator also with the evil urge. 

It is with wonder, and with awe at beholding the sacred, that Adam discovers the reality of Shabat.  "No stupid man can know it, no fool will ever understand this.  For the wicked bloom like grass, and the workers of evil all blossom."[24]  Yet the success of the wicked is only temporary, "in order to ultimately destroy them forever."  For they live a split life.  It is ruptured by the conflict inherent in existence. 

Whereas "the tsadik blooms like the date palm, like a cedar in Lebanon he flourishes, they are planted within God's house," within the reality of Shabat's presence.  For the presence of Shabat resolves conflict and brings peace to adversaries.



[1] - Shabat acts as a filter and a processor.  Anything that penetrates into human awareness from the outside environment during the course of the week, must pass through Shabat.  Shabat permits entry only to what is wholesome for human beings, only to the elements that contribute to and merge with the human personality.  Also, Shabat brings forth potential that is dormant within the self.  In this way, Shabat provides an indispensable element for the consolidation of the Jewish personality.  Unlike a non-Jew, the Jew has no natural intrinsic stability; he has no clearly consolidated, defined objective self.  Therefore, if a Jew does not keep Shabat, he becomes a victim of entropy.
[2]    Exodus 31, 16
[3] "'He who sanctifies Shabat, and Israel, and the intervals of time and festival.'  And it could not say, 'Israel sanctifies Shabat and the intervals of time and festival.'  Because, whereas the intervals of time and festival are dependent upon the court's recognition of the new month based upon the testimony of eyewitnesses, Shabat is sanctified once and forever."  (Rashi, Brachot: 49A.)

[4] Genesis 3:7

[5] Tractate Brachot, 13:A
[6]  Tosfot, Tractate Suca, 31:B
[7]Rosh Hashana 16:1.
[8]  Fathers 2:4.
[9]  Bava Metsia 59:F2.
[10] Exodus 31:17.
[11] Psalms 55:23.
[12] Brachot 5:F2.


[13] When the Chasid steps out in his holiday dress of dark and heavy traditional garb, and the thermometer reads ninety degrees, he appears to be an anachronism, detached from reality.  In fact, he is demonstrating his contempt for the dictates of physical matter.  This too is thanks to Shabat.


[14] Brachot 33:F1.
[15] Psikta Rabati, Section 46.
[16] Beitsa 16:F2.
[17]  Sefer HaBahir, section 57, see also Ramban Genesis 2:7.
[18]  "For before Shabat none of the created beings had a soul, and this is the reason that Chazal give for the mitsva of circumcision being on the eighth day, for the reason is [in order to wait] until the day of Shabat has passed over [the child], and he becomes the owner of a soul.  This is what scripture has said "and God completed," meaning, that by means of the seventh day God completed his labor.  And it goes back to explain what labor it is that He completed, not that there was something lacking in what He had done, rather the labor He had done yet lacked something to uphold it, and by means of the seventh day, that concluded the matter..."  Ohr HaChaim elaborates upon the significance of man's role as the Creator's partner in maintaining the universe:  "Because being that Shabat is what gives existence to the universe all six days, and after six days have passed another Shabat shall come and give it [the universe] life and existence for another six days,  you must know that the fact that Shabat is found in the world, constitutes Shabat's existence, in that people observe it, for if there are no observers of Shabat, then there is no Shabat.   Know, then, that it is he [man] who sustains the universe, and there is no greater partner than this, for since the day God created man, the universe has not lacked a sustaining element, [for] the tsadik is the foundation of the universe in that he observes Shabat.  Adam was an observer of Shabat, and afterwards rose Seth his son, for he was an absolute tsadik [not Cain], and after him Metushelach and Noach and Avraham etc. and from thence the observance of Shabat has not ceased.  (Ohr HaChaim Genesis 2:3.)


[19]  Bereshit Raba section eight, see also Tractate Shabat 88:F2, 89:F1.
[20] Bereshit Raba sections 17 and 11.  See also Kli Yakar on Genesis 2:3.

"Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai taught: 'Shabat spoke before the Holy One:  'Master of the Universe.  All have a mate, and I have no mate.'  Said the Holy One:  'The Congregation of Israel is your mate.'  Thus when Israel stood before Mount Sinai, the Holy one said to them: 'Remember the thing that I told Shabat; the Congregation of Israel is your mate.'  Hence the commandment (Exodus 20) 'remember Shabat, to sanctify it.'" (Sanctification connotes marriage.)  Bereshit Raba (Vilna) section 11.

[21] Deuteronomy 30:12-14.
[22] Psalms 85:12.
[23] Bereshit Raba Section 22.
[24] Psalms 92:7-8.