Faith Focus: Time to rediscover the Sabbath?

Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet.

Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet. - Credit: Archant

I had the immense pleasure recently to speak as part of the learning programme, now moved online, of St Albans Abbey.

Although Zoom teaching surely has its constraints, I had a blast learning with Jews and Christians alike, and we discussed a topic which, perhaps, is more relevant than ever: the Sabbath.

Shabbat, as it is in Hebrew, is an absolutely central part of Jewish life. Not only is it counted among the Ten Commandments, but it is foundational to building Jewish community and family life.

The notion that, for 24 hours, we separate from the normal work-week rush-about lifestyle, and instead engage in more casual and spiritual pursuits, is one we can probably all do with.

One source I shared in that learning in the ‘digital cathedral’ was a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote that Shabbat is a ‘cathedral in time’.

He contrasts the immense building projects of Christianity – our own Abbey among them – with the absence of these in Jewish history. Partially that lack of historic buildings is due to persecution, but it also reflects an ideological focus on time rather than space.

Now, when we all find that space has been restricted, that we have been driven from spaces which are normally comforting and meaningful, we’ve had to think differently about how to make room in our lives for the sacred.

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At no time have I felt that Rabbi Heschel’s words are more true than over the last hundred days – when Shabbat truly has been a cathedral in time, an opportunity to get away from the pressures of life without leaving home.

In our new, hopefully, post-coronavirus world, this is something we can all incorporate into our lives. Try, for just one day, to mark out sacred time. Put your phones and computers away, stop rushing around – just spend a day with family, reading, walking, have a lie-in, make room for spiritual contemplation.

It has immense spiritual benefits, tremendous environmental benefits and it’s probably the best way of building cathedrals of sacredness into our lives without ever having to change our space at all.

Adam Zagoria-Moffet is the rabbi of St. Albans Masorti Synagogue, a Jewish community serving Hertfordshire and surrounding areas.