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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It is significant, in this context, that two of the three passages in which Isaiah refers to the Sabbath are linked by the prophet with the end of days (Isaiah 56:1-7; 58:13,14; 66:22-24). Modern biblical commentators, notably Benno Jacob and M.D. Cassutto, have demonstrated that similarity of phrasing even in seemingly unrelated themes invariably points to some inner implied connection between the apparently discrete themes. Thus, it is no mere coincidence that Isaiah employs the words "delight" (oneg) and "honor" (kavod) in his descriptions of both the Sabbath and the end of days ("And thou shalt call the Sabbath delight…and honor it" 58:13; "And you shall delight in the glow of its honor" 66:11). The implication is clear. The delight and joy that will mark the end of days is made available here and now by the Sabbath.

Living in Harmony

Material plenty is, however, but one of the aspects of the latter time that recalls Adam's Edenic existence. Before his disobedience, Adam lives in unbroken harmony with all existence, with God, with Eve, with nature and the beasts of the field. With his sin, a profound split occurred, setting him off in tension and conflict not alone with all being, but even with himself. The split within is the consciousness of guilt. The essential meaning of the messianic time is the overcoming, the resolution of that split and the restoration of the primordial harmony which man once knew. Our present purpose, in referring to the biblical exposition of the messianic theme, is limited to those aspects of it, personal and collective, which are adumbrated by the Sabbath.

The change in nature--its bringing forth thorns and thistles, occasioned by Adam's disobedience--is the signal that henceforth man would find his bread only "by the sweat of his brow." The implication is that, in his primordial state, his sustenance required no such toil--a state of affairs destined to return in the end of days. The delight that man will know in that time was already his portion in the Garden of Eden. Had not God provided the Garden with "every tree pleasant to sight and good to eat"?

The river that went forth from Eden, rendering its fruitfulness independent of the vagaries of rainfall, finds its counterpart in the rivers and streams that will miraculously spring up in the latter time. "On every high mountain and on every exalted hill there will be streams and watercourses" (Isaiah 30:25). "And a spring shall come forth from the House of God and water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 4:18).

The peace that once obtained between Adam and the animals (hence, the limitation of his food to the vegetation of the field and the fruits of the tree) will be restored in the end of days. "And I shall make for you on that day a covenant with the beast of the field and with the fowl of heaven and with the creeping things of the earth" (Hosea 2:20). The Messianic promise of universal peace between the nations is but the restoration of the peace of Eden. Murder occurs only after the expulsion from Eden.

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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).