Reclaiming Time (a meditation on Heschel’s “The Sabbath”)

This was written for use as a liturgical piece. It can be read responsively, in call-and-response, or in whatever other pattern one likes.

As the title of this post notes, this was written in response to portions of A.J. Heschel’s widely-read book, The Sabbath, in order to raise up the idea that Shabbat exists — and we celebrate Shabbat — as a result of human recognition and need. This is in contrast to Heschel’s assertion, “It is not a different state of consciousness but a different climate; it is as if the appearance of all things somehow changed. The primary awareness is one of our being¬†within¬†the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath being within us. We may not know whether our understanding is correct, or whether our sentiments are noble, but the air of the day surrounds us like spring, which spreads over the land without our aid or notice.”

This poem is a response as well to Ahad Ha’am’s assertion that “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.”

As a Humanistic Jew, I think there’s no inherent magic or force to Shabbat, but that Jewish celebration of Shabbat and Shabbat’s powerful hold on Jewish people is a matter of mutual reinforcement that began with human needs.

Permission is hereby given for use of this work, provided: any use must include acknowledgment of the source, and any use must be for ceremonial or educational purposes only. This work cannot be reproduced, in whole or in part, for any commercial purpose without permission of the author.

Reclaiming Time

It has been said that Shabbat is a palace in time.

A Shabbat candle burning against a black backdrop.

Places are built by human hands,
time marked by human measures.

It has been said that more than the Jewish people keeping Shabbat,
Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.

Shabbat has kept the Jewish people,
because the Jewish people have kept Shabbat.

It has been said that Shabbat is an atmosphere, a climate.

We perceive atmosphere.
We change climate.

It has been said that Shabbat is a queen.

Queens and kings have power because we yield it to them.

Let us now build the palace.
Let us now note the time.
And as we do, we create the atmosphere of Shabbat.

We welcome Shabbat by giving some of our power away.
Let us now keep Shabbat,
so that Shabbat can keep us.

NOTE: The lines above in italics are intended for use at the beginning of Shabbat. If you wish to use this poem at Havdalah, marking Shabbat’s conclusion, you can replace the italicized lines with the following:

On entering Shabbat, we may yield some power away.

Let us now reclaim the palace.
Let us now note the time.
And as we do, we draw Shabbat to a close.

Author: Rabbi Jeremy M. Kridel