Above all, Shabbat is distinguished by the fact that it releases man from the pressures of time. During the workweek, the dictum “Time is money” casts its pall on all that we do. We may occasionally allow ourselves a break, but when we do, it is with regret the fact that we cannot labor from dawn to dusk at making tidy profits. If we indulge in a longer pause, we feel guilty at being remiss.
Not so on Shabbat. On Friday afternoon, we turn off the lights, leave the telephones and the faxes to answer calls automatically, lock the office door and turn our backs on the need to earn a living. So to speak, we vacate the driver’s seat and let Heaven do the driving. Now we are entering different territory. The Sages comment on the Biblical account of the first Shabbat, when heaven and earth were complete, with all they encompass: “What was the world lacking? Shabbat came and brought with it harmony and peace of mind.” Western man equates Time with money; Shabbat comes to remind us that Time is really Life itself.
Shabbat is a microcosm of the world of the spirit, a world which concentrates within it all aspects of Man’s spirituality. The Shabbat affords the Jew a window through which he can observe the universe without the pressures of time which prevail in the workday world. It gives him the opportunity to delve into the purpose of Life without being swept away by the powerful currents of the pursuit of profit and prestige. This pressure-free contemplation leads man to recall the true purpose of his life on this earth. It is then that we are able to get in contact with our inner selves, to examine what lies in our hearts, and to nurture our soul.
On Friday evening with sunset, we switch into Shabbat mode, the time when we are concerned only with those matters which transcend time. Now is the time to inquire as to the balance in our spiritual accounts. Am I improving my character? How is my bond with my spouse and my children? Above all, what about my recognition of my Creator, and my bond with Him? On the Seventh Day, man is given the opportunity to nurture his soul, to advance toward spiritual perfection. Released from the obligation to work for his living, man is free to pursue the goals which constitute the true reason that G-d has placed him in this physical world.
Man’s influence on the physical world is the greatest when he performs creative tasks. Carrying a large plank from place to place effects no change; taking a few pieces of wood and crafting them into a violin for a maestro elevates the wood and gives it a new dignity. Man cannot create the wood, but he can fashion it into an object of greater value. It is this creative intervention in the world as first created which the Torah prohibits for one day each week. Just as the physical world does not owe its existence to the efforts of Man, so, too, does the spiritual world not owe its existence to the intelligence of Man. It is not Man who imbues the Seventh Day with its sanctity, but the G-d who created Shabbat and endowed it with a portion of His own holiness. The world was created in six days, but its continued existence is dependant upon the Shabbat. As powerful as the forces of Nature might be, they have no significance unless the world is imbued with sanctity.
For six days, man is subject to the rule of the clock; on Shabbat, there is no past, and no future, only the ongoing present tense of eternity, which is above the realm of time. The Shabbat is dubbed “a glimpse of the World to Come.” It is a simulation, in terms of this world, of what the soul experiences in the Next World, a realm of spiritual existence alone. In the Next World, there is no change, no passage of time.
As we enter Shabbat and leave the shackles of time behind us, we are taking a positive step forward in our struggle to elevate the world of the spirit above that of the body. Shabbat enables the Jew to take the reins of his life from the control of his physical being and to pass them to the control of his soul. When the soul is in control, man returns to his true purpose in living. He is free to bond with his Creator through prayer, Torah study, zemirot Shabbat, and to rise to ever-higher worlds of spirituality. Shabbat is the Jew’s ticket to his inner self.