The topic of the Sabbath has been investigated and written about by some of the finest thinkers, scholars and rabbis of all time. Sabbath’s landscape has been mined down to its deepest strata of meaning. What can be added to the wealth of interpretation and significance already brought to light by so many others, especially in the Jewish community where the Sabbath first found its public expression?
The Sages remind us, however, that "there are 70 faces to the Torah," that the Torah is an inexhaustible mine of knowledge, wisdom and inspiration. In the ongoing spiritual search for the meaning of the Sabbath, I would like to believe that perhaps I have stumbled upon a small yet shiny nugget not yet entirely polished to help its golden radiance glisten more brightly in the daylight of human awareness. In my humble opinion, this gem on the Sabbath’s tiara is that of gratefulness. If Sabbath is anything, and of course it is many things, it is essentially a day of gratefulness by which we can more fully appreciate its qualities of delight, rest, serenity and sanctity.
One monumental pillar of Shabbat that upholds and sustains its spiritual significance is the cessation from work. ”The Sabbath is a patch of ground secured by a tiny fence; when we withdraw from the endless choices afforded us and listen, uncover what is ultimately important, remember what is quietly sacred, Sabbath restrictions on work and activity actually create a space of great freedom; without these self-imposed restrictions, we may never truly be free. “
The Sabbath's purpose takes shape in our lives when we recognize our capacity to consecrate one day a week during which we can pay full attentiveness, in mind, body and heart, to the giftedness of life and the world, and by doing so succeed in converting time from a context of petition to one of praise, from a setting of dissatisfaction to one of gratefulness.
There are times when a universe of thought is contained in one word. Hebrew in particular is a language rich in multiplicities of meaning. Since each letter is equivalent to a number, it is not uncommon for Jewish tradition to interpret words, even individual letters, and their reference points, through their numerical value. Thus the mode of hermeneutics known as “gematria.”
I would suggest that one word in particular could be interpreted in such a way as to embrace the essence of the Sabbath as a day of gratefulness. “Ahavah,” love, is comprised of 4 Hebrew letters: “Aleph”=1; “hay”=5;”vet”=2;”hay”=5.The middle letters constitute another Hebrew and Aramaic word, “Hav,” meaning give. These two letters likewise add up to a numerical value of 7. The first and final letters of this word constitute the sum of 6.
Exercising one’s interpretive imagination, one can discover the core significance of the Sabbath in this word. The spiritual embodiment of the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, resides at the heart of the word for love, a word that spells out “hav”, meaning give. The Sabbath is a day during which we acknowledge God’s love as a source of the gift of our lives. This recognition allows us to give back in the way of grateful prayer and praise. “The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care…no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even pray for relief or anything we may need. It is a day of praise, not a day for petitions.” All has been given as a lover provides for his beloved’s needs. The world was created in six days-“aleph”=1 +”hay”=5, = 6.This was the act of God’s giving, which the Sabbath allows us to dwell upon internally and introspectively and celebrate ritually and liturgically for an entire day. Every component of this sacred 24-hour period is designed to enhance our awareness of life’s giftedness and blessing and to sensitize us to the reality of how grateful we could be so as to reap our greatest joy in being alive.
When the Sabbath arrives, each week, seeing the day as a gift by which to heighten our gratefulness for life ,is a source of the greatest blessing.