Delighting in the Sabbath

He leads me beside the quiet waters.  Psalm 23:2

For the Israelite, the essence of good life is measured by the quality of menuha it enjoys.  Menuha means “tranquility.”   Psalm 23, for instance, translates this word as “the quiet waters.”  Menuha is what the practice of Sabbath promises to bring to our lives—still waters which restore our souls.

The Sabbath ennobles not only the soul, but also the body by giving us rest in which to recover our sense of primal truth.  Physical comfort and delight are a big part of the experience of such restoration.  As the ancient Midrash Tehillim counsels us,

Call the Sabbath a delight: a delight to the soul and a delight to the body.  Sanctify the Sabbath by choice meals, by beautiful garments.  Delight your soul with pleasure and this very pleasure will reward you with life.

Because such opportunities for physical and spiritual delight await us each week, we are to eagerly prepare ourselves for our Sabbath day.  We anticipate it, and welcome it as we would welcome someone we love who was coming to visit us.   The Rabbi Shimon, in the first century, wrote of the Sabbath customs of his day saying,

For the Israelites the day is a living presence and, when it arrives, they feel as if a guest has come to see them. And, surely, a guest who comes to pay a call in friendship or respect must be given a dignified welcome.

On this day—a day the Lord Himself calls holy—we have opportunity to meet with God in a special way   And the way we anticipate this meeting can be an expression of the very relationship we desire to have with God’s presence.

In some Jewish traditions, the Sabbath is also spoken of as a bride.  It impresses that we are, in a sense, to espouse the seventh day. The root of the Hebrew word le-kadesh, which we translate as “sanctify,” means “to betroth.”  As another ancient rabbinical Midrash states,

Just as a groom is dressed in his finest garments, so is a man on the Sabbath day dressed in his finest garments; just as a man rejoices all the days of the wedding feast, so does man rejoice on the Sabbath; just as the groom does no work on his wedding day, so does a man abstain from work on the Sabbath day.

These ancient traditions depict something of the joyful quality of relationship that is ours to anticipate each week as the sacred day approaches us.  Consider how you might look forward to your next Sabbath, whatever day you have put aside to welcome God in your week.  How can you treat this day as a special guest that you look forward to hosting into your house?  How might you more fully anticipate the goodness that God has prepared for you to receive in your coming day of rest?

If you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable…, then you will find your joy in the LORD.

Isa. 58:13-14