Shabbat Shalom: The Narrative of Time

Feb 2, 2023 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: The Narrative of Time

Feb 2, 2023

By: Renée Rockford
Interim President and CEO

The dramatic splitting of the Red Sea as the Israelites fled Egypt is detailed in Beshalach, this week’s parsha. It is also this parsha in which the notion of the Sabbath is first introduced.

When the Israelites were without food and water after the Exodus, God told them that He would send them manna from heaven. They were not to gather it on the seventh day. Instead, a double portion would fall on the sixth day. That is why, to this day, we have two challot on Shabbat, in remembrance of that time.

The Sabbath has been called one of the greatest institutions the world has ever known, and even in its simplicity or perhaps because of it, the notion continues to confound and inspire thinkers and writers. That is true in part because, in the words of journalist Ezra Klein, “The Sabbath is a much more radical approach to rest than a simple respite from work and technology. Implicit in the practice of the Sabbath is a stinging critique of the speed at which we live our lives, the ways we choose to spend our time and how we think about the idea of rest itself.”

In a recent podcast episode of the Ezra Klein Show, Klein interviewed Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. Shulevitz, a writer for the Atlantic, who tackles the same concept of the Sabbath as a construct of time.

Too, it is an idea that we find in the writings of one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century. For example, in his book, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z’l describes a realm of time where, “The goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” Wrote Heschel, “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.”

This notion of a people who view time as a different kind of entity is also at the heart of the book by Thomas Cahill titled, The Gifts of the Jews, which reveals what Cahill calls the critical change that made western civilization possible. Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative that led to the hopeful belief in progress and the sense that tomorrow can be better than today.

In these days when we witness the devastation of war and the shooting of people emerging from Sabbath prayer, we must cling to the idea that progress is possible, that hope is not a daydream, that the days we live have meaning, and that time itself can bring healing.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom.

Please email Renée Rockford at with comments or questions.