Biblical Sources on Shabbat and the Perfected World

The Bible itself is the source of the notion that Shabbat is a foretaste of the perfected world that is yet to come.

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This article, like "Shabbat as a Preview of the Perfected World," is excerpted with permission from the Fall 1967 issue (Vol. 16, no. 4) of Judaism, published by the American Jewish Congress. The concepts of a messianic era and a "world to come" are sharply distinguished by some Jewish thinkers, less so by others. In Rabbi Friedman's usage here, the terms overlap.

One perforce asks: What is the source of this aggadah [i.e., the statement and belief that Shabbat is a foretaste of the World to Come]? Is it merely a rabbinic conceit, a product of the freewheeling poetic fancy of the masters of the midrash [the interpretive tradition, especially through the creation of narrative], like so much else to be found in its imaginative palaces? We suggest that its actual source, its point d'appui, is to be sought not in rabbinic fancy, for which there is no accounting, but in the biblical text itself. The reiterated, even if only implied, biblical parallels between the Sabbath of Genesis--Adam's life in the Garden of Eden before his expulsion--and the end of days could not have been lost on the [ancient rabbis]. Consciously or unconsciously these parallels--the latter time as the return of the Edenic conditions--must have registered on the rabbinic mind. 

Material Abundance and the Meeting of Our Needs

The equivalences and parallels are unmistakable. A glance at them should prove convincing. One of the striking aspects of the messianic time, according to the Prophets, will be an extraordinary material abundance. Amos (9:13,14) declares, "Behold, the days are coming, saith the Lord, and the plowman shall follow upon the reaper." The Prophet Joel (4:19) asserts, "And it shall come to pass, that the mountains shall drip sweet wine and the hills shall run with milk." Such descriptions are to be found repeatedly in Isaiah (6, 7, 30:23), in Jeremiah (31:12), and in Ezekiel (34:13,14). Isaiah adds a distinctive original note to the effect that in the latter days, Israel's work will be performed by strangers, "And strangers shall arise and graze your flock, and the sons of strangers shall be your fieldmen and vintners" (61:6,7; 60:10).

In sum, in the prophetic messianic vision, man's material needs will be available without labor and toil, as they were to Adam in the Garden of Eden--hence, the halakhic principle (mukhan [or "ready"]), that only that food may be partaken of which was prepared prior to the coming in of the Sabbath. Though this principle is based on a biblical verse (Exodus 16:23), the parallel between the halakhic principle of mukhan and the ready availability of Adam's sustenance in the Garden of Eden, a phenomenon destined to reoccur in the messianic time, is too striking to be overlooked.

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Rabbi Theodore Friedman, Ph.D. (1908-1992), served for many years as rabbi of congregations in Jackson Heights, New York, and South Orange, New Jersey. He later lived in Jerusalem, where he taught Talmud to students from the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano (Buenos Aires).