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Zachor et Yom HaShabbat
(Remember the Sabbath Day)
Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, your animal, and your stranger who dwells within your gates—for in six days God made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, God blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.
Zayin is the seventh letter of the alphabet, so it makes sense that the commandment to observe the day of rest, the Sabbath (which is the seventh day of the week in Judaism) begins with the word Zachor (“remember”). Why is the commandment to “remember” and “sanctify” rather than to “do” something active? And why does the passage say that not only should the heads of household cease from working, but the whole extended family should, too—down to the animals?
Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, wrote that the Sabbath brings us into the realm of time and away from that of space. Because we spend our whole lives envisioning the world in terms of physical things—objects we want to own, places we want to see, and so on—it’s important to take a day to focus on the invisible objects like “sacred moments” in time. You can’t see, touch, or hear a spiritual experience, but you feel it on a higher level, and you may remember it every day for the rest of your life.
If you were to climb to the top of a mountain and take in the view, the sensation you’d feel—that awareness of the beauty of nature—is an experience of time, not space. You appreciate the physical view, yes, but your feeling of being at one with that physical world is entirely spiritual. This is what happens on the seventh day of creation: God has created the heavens and the earth, the seas, the animals and plants and humankind; and finally, on the seventh day, He takes a look at everything He’s done, decides to take a break, and makes that break a regular part of the rhythm of life on earth—a holy part.
The Sabbath is the first thing in all of creation that’s described as “holy.” But how can you sanctify something that isn’t physical? How can a day, which is nothing more than a mental concept we use to mark time and keep track of history, become a holy object? Heschel answered that celebrating the Sabbath is a way of celebrating the “holiness of time,” a way to take control of our lives and focus on ourselves. And to do this properly, we not only have to cease from physical labor, but we need to place ourselves in an environment where everything around us, and everyone in our lives, also makes this break.
For six days of the week we use our powers to dominate the world around us—working, building, creating new objects, and the like. It’s important, then, to use the seventh day to build up ourselves, to cease working and just appreciate the beauty of the world around us. It’s as if the entire week is the hike to the top of the mountain, and the Sabbath is the rest we take when we get to the top—where we can finally see everything from a new perspective.
In every religion there is a Sabbath day, though which day of the week it is varies from tradition to tradition. What unites them all is the concept of a day sanctified and set apart from the rest of the week. The concept of a day of rest is integral to Kabala as well—it’s the very heart of the act of restriction, the structure in our lives that allows us to gain so much by simply doing less.
The Zayin card is a reminder that you need to stop and allow yourself to experience stillness.
Weeks go by in endless repeating cycles of actions and experiences—work, eat, sleep; work, eat, sleep. We often think of periods of rest as a waste of time, but the truth is that stillness, meditation, and experiences of spirituality are the most rewarding moments of our life.
Knowing and appreciating the value of the Sabbath day is one thing—remembering it, Zachor, is something different altogether. Knowing is theoretical; remembering is practical.
Find a way to make the Sabbath a reality for you, a holy time apart from the rest of your week where you can just be and need not do anything.