The Sabbath Soul
Mystical Reflections on the Transformative Power of Holy Time
By Eitan Fishbane
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011, 188 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 21, 2011
Dr. Eitan Fishbane introduces readers to the mystical lessons that the Chassidim saw in the Sabbath. This is a group of Jews who existed since the early eighteenth century until today. Fishbane does so by translating the words of Chassidic rabbis in a poetic fashion on the right hand side of his book, while inserting notes on the left side that explain the mystical notions in a comprehensive manner. These include the writings of Rabbi Natan of Nemirov, the disciple of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, and Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter or Ger, the author of Sefat Emet.
Fishbane sees the Sabbath as a time when "the world around us becomes still – all the demands and the heaviness that we carry are released…. It is a time that whispers of mystery and redemption, a corridor within the hours that transports us to a new level of feeling and thought. All at once we are aware of the majesty that surrounds us." The Sabbath is a liberation from the mundane forces that imprison people during the week. The following are some of the mystical ideas that the Chassidic rabbis had.
Some of these rabbis saw the lighting of the Sabbath candles at the onset of the Sabbath as a symbol of the "extra soul" that they thought entered the Jewish body on the Sabbath. The candles, like the face of the Jew, glows because of the presence of the extra soul.
They felt that they should dress in white on the Sabbath because they were entering a new spiritual dimension on the Sabbath, clean and pure, like the color white. White also "evokes the erasure of our ever-present materiality." Ordinary clothes, one rabbi wrote "do not reflect the essence of a person (but the Sabbath clothes) correspond uniquely to the person wearing them."
Eating a special meal on the Sabbath is important, as a rabbi wrote: "Shabbat is a semblance of the world to come, and it is a great mitzvah (good deed) to eat then, it is the essence of honoring the Sabbath."
Jews place two loaves of bread on the Sabbath table to recall that during the days of Moses a double portion of manna fell and was collected by the Israelites, and that no manna fell on the Sabbath. The mystics introduced the custom of making a cut in one of the loaves before making a blessing over the bread. They thought that the world was in chaos and felt that the sliced bread indicated this chaos, while the whole bread showed optimism, that despite this problem "wholeness and perfection is not nullified, for the second whole loaf is still set [uncut] on the table."
They suggested that Jews leave crumbs on the table while they recite the grace after the meal so that the crumbs will be blessed and assure that there will be ample bread for future Sabbath meals.