Friday, May 21, 2010

"Light Sabbath" and "Dark Sabbath"

From an article on the Sabbath Manifesto website:

Judith Shulevitz, author of the new book “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time,” wrote in the April 16 Washington Post’s “On Faith” column that people have largely rejected the Sabbath because “there’s a light Sabbath and a dark Sabbath.”:

“The light Sabbath features community and festivity and what a famous professor of psychology once called ‘freedom from all slavery to the clock.’ The dark Sabbath bristles with rules and regulations, and at the extreme, fanaticism…Americans may recall the light Sabbath with a certain fondness, at least if they hanker after a calmer way of life. But they are mostly thrilled that over the past 50 years we’ve done away with the dark, coercive one.”

“But what if I told you that we could have some of the light Sabbath back, if we’d accept just a little bit of the dark one? We could have something to which we’d probably say yes–namely, more time for self and family and neighborhood–and all we’d have to do is let ourselves be governed by a few nos, a few rules about not working at a pre-arranged time. Conversely, if we don’t accept a no or two, then the kind of time that used to be protected by the Sabbath–time during which everyone leaves the office or factory and turns to one another for entertainment and sustenance–is in danger of disappearing.
Do you regularly find yourself exhausted and in need of rest? Do you struggle with overcommitting yourself, or feeling unfulfilled by many of the activities you have to do? If so, perhaps 'freedom from all slavery to the clock' would be a needed reprieve.

What do you think: is Ms. Shulevitz correct? Do we need a little bit of the "dark Shabbat" in order to regain the "light Shabbat"? What would that look like for individuals--what kinds of habits, practices, or rules? For communities?


Paula S. said...

Hello Yahnatan,

I have enjoyed reading reflections on the Sabbath from various sources that you have been posting on Fridays recently.

The idea of Sabbath as light and dark reminds me of the rabbinic concepts of Shabbat as bride (Shabbat HaKallah) and queen (Shabbat HaMalchah), framed in more palatable and modern language. Samuel Dresner in his book “The Sabbath” explains bride as feelings of love and desire toward the Sabbath and queen as laws of observance regarding the Sabbath.

Chazal (Shevu’oth 20b) relate that remembering Shabbat and keeping Shabbat were given by HaShem in a single utterance (based on Exodus 20:8 in relation to Deuteronomy 5:12). Remembering is the bride, the light part of Sabbath, the longing for the experience of freedom, peace, and rest. Keeping is the queen, or the dark part of Sabbath, the laws and statues. But both remembering and keeping, bride and queen, light and dark are part of the same entity. As Dresner puts it;

"One can never truly know the inward feeling (bride) of Sabbath without the outward form (queen)."

Like a queen the Sabbath is a reigning monarch who arrives on the seventh day despite the will or liking of man. When a queen is in the palace everything must be in order and certain protocol followed, yet it is the protocol or “rules” that enable the experience of inner peace.

With this in mind I wonder if just a “little” darkness is the answer regarding Shabbat? Certainly, people have to start somewhere in observance, but inevitably it would seem that “remembering” and “keeping” or emotional desire and specific observance/discipline must have equal balance and weight in order to celebrate Shabbat to its full and intended extent.

Shabbat Shalom,


Yahnatan Lasko said...

Paula: great comment, tying Shulevitz's idea back to not only the sages but straight to the Torah itself! Shabbat shalom!