Sabbatical
I love the Sabbath, I really do. It’s a twenty-four hour break from monotony. The tedium of routine that constitutes our week can wear us down. The Sabbath is like going on holiday. It rides in on Friday evening like a knight on shining armor to save us - from ourselves.

In Israel, Jewish farming must go on complete hiatus for an entire year, once every seven years. Just as we work for six days and rest on the Sabbath so do Jewish farmers in Israel work for six years and rest on the Sabbatical. It is an entire year of rest.[1]

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But can you imagine a Sabbath that lasts an entire year? How terribly tedious it would be to refrain from work for an entire year. What would we do all day? There is a limit to how many times one can enjoy sleeping in.  At some point we’d begin to feel rather useless.



If you can relate to my concerns then you and I have some serious rethinking to do because the Sabbath is not about rest nor is it about breaking with routine nor is it about going on holiday or lifting us out of tedium. The Sabbath and the Sabbatical year are of a higher order. They are in a league of their own.

The King’s Minister
Let us employ an analogy. Suppose a King appointed you to the ministry of agriculture. Your responsibilities are vast and grave. Millions depend upon you for their food supply and your decisions affect vast tracts of crops. Thousands appeal to you on a daily basis for decisions on a host of matters and you stay awake at night worrying about the wellbeing of the nation. You are indeed an important cog in the king’s wheel.


Now suppose you were summoned to see the king. You do your best to disentangle yourself from the responsibilities of your office and walk down the hall to the royal chamber. But try as you might you can’t slip away from the hordes of minions awaiting your approval for this or decision on that. As you stride purposefully down the hall, proposals are presented for your review, documents are offered for your for signature, requests are stream in for your consideration; you literally can’t break yourself free.

However, you soon arrive to the King’s chamber and now you have no choice. At this point you must put an end to the incessant harangue that has accompanied you down the hall. Can you imagine what would happen if the majestic doors were thrown wide and you strode imperiously into the King’s chambers shouting out instructions, voicing decisions and penning signatures?

It is not merely a matter of decorum, but of remembering your place. You work for the King. He appointed you to the position and it is on his authority that you make decisions. Exercising authority in the king’s presence is tantamount to treason. It is as good as proclaiming your authority above the king’s.

The Talmud recounts the story of a fellow who responded to a question raised before the king with a hand gesture and this was considered treasonous.[2] Before the King everything comes to a standstill. All must wait for the king’s approval before taking initiative. You might be charged by the king to answer such questions, but certainly not in front of the king.

The Work Week and Sabbath
We now return to the Sabbath and the work week. When G-d created the world He intended for us to work. He put Adam in the Garden of Eden, “to work it and to guard it.”[3] G-d desired that we continue His work of creation by transforming the raw materials that He made into constructive and useful tools for humanity. He also made us responsible for the preservation of the environment and all its creatures.


He gave us grave responsibilities and they keep us busy. However, no matter how grave our responsibilities, no matter how vital our work, no matter how important our task there are times for work and times when work is sacrilegious.

During the week G-d conceals Himself and leaves us space, an arena if you will, in which we can perform our work. However, on the Sabbath G-d comes for a visit. When G-d arrives all work must cease simply because G-d in our midst. The Sabbath isn’t special because it is restful; it is restful because it is special.

Before G-d all activity must cease. Our only task is to greet the king and respond to Him. Our only preoccupation is with reveling in G-d’s presence, celebrating our special time together and engaging in the traditional forms of worship that G-d deemed appropriate for this day.

The same is true in a broader sense of the Sabbatical year, when G-d’s presence is manifest in Israel. We don’t refrain from work during this year in order to rest. We refrain from work because work in G-d’s presence is simply out of the question.  The Sabbatical means going on holiday with G-d for an entire year.

It is not merely a time to break with routine. It is a time to stand before G-d and reconnect with our spiritual roots. It is a year of worship, study, observance and meditation. It is our time with G-d; we bask in His presence and experience His majesty with awe. Before G-d we are neither important official nor lowly worker. Before G-d we are nothing. Merely a subject that worships.[4]






[1] This is of course in addition to their observance of the Sabbath.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 5b. the fact that the man was executed only because he didn’t understand the meaning of the gesture does not detract from the point made in the essay because had he understood the gesture his response would have constituted a participation in the debate authorized by the king. But joining the debate without understanding the subject means taking initiative not authorized by the kind and that is treasonous.

[3] Genesis 2:8.

[4] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 17 p. 246


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