The Sabbath Experience

September 7, 2012 - 5:00 am

“O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, 
       for with the LORD is unfailing love 
       and with him is full redemption.” — Psalm 130:7

If you have ever been on a spiritual retreat, you know how difficult it can be to “re-enter” into the daily routine. Those closing moments are bittersweet as you savour the fellowship time you have spent with God and with others, coupled with the knowledge that soon it will be over.

In many respects, that parallels our experience as the Sabbath comes to a close. The Sabbath is to be experienced as “an island in time” — we are to live fully in that moment and find the pleasure and holiness that comes from relaxing, studying the Torah, and having fellowship with family and friends. If we fully partake of the Sabbath experience — rest, study, and fellowship — then we have achieved our spiritual goal.

As the Sabbath comes to a close, we formally conclude this time with an evening prayer service and the Havdalh, or “separation ceremony.” During that time, we reaffirm our belief in the coming of Messiah and the redemption of the world. We acknowledge again our duty to sanctify life every day and to fill it with holiness. Then, we light a long braided candle, drink from an overflowing cup of wine, and deeply inhale the fragrance of spices as we chant the prayer, “Be not afraid, my servant Jacob, for I, the LORD, am with you” (from Jeremiah 30:10).

Each step of this ceremony is very important. The light of the braided candle symbolizes the intertwining of the Eternal One and the divine spirit in man; for as the Bible says, “the LORD is our light and our redeemer.” The overflowing cup of wine symbolizes our uncontainable optimism and hope for the coming week. And the aromatic spices refresh our soul and dispel the emptiness we feel at the conclusion of Shabbat.

Observing the Sabbath for us is intentional, purposeful, and spiritual — involving all our senses and impacting all aspects of our lives. As you reflect on your own spiritual encounters with God, both daily and weekly, consider what you might add — or subtract — to make your experience more meaningful. What spiritual goals might you adopt? How can you involve more of your senses in helping you to focus on God?

As the psalm writer noted, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). The invitation is open; God is waiting.


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