"For everything there is a time and a season," proclaims King Solomon in Ecclesiastes. "A time for war, and a time for peace."
Certainly the "times for war" are a dominant feature of our calendars and appointment books. We seem to be forever waging wars. There are, of course, the real wars, fought with armed troops and increasingly sophisticated weaponry. But even in times of political peace, we are constantly battling the demons that menace our material and moral well-being: we wage wars against crime, drugs, disease, illiteracy. Within, we fight personal battles against selfishness or laziness, an addiction to tobacco or a tendency to overeat.
Nor does it end with the battling of evil and negative things. In school, in the workplace or in the social arena, we are constantly fighting our way to the top, constantly combating the obstacles in our quest toward greater success. We struggle to get more for our money, use our time more efficiently, develop our talents, improve our mind and refine our character. Intrinsic to our humanness is the unceasing drive to make more of ourselves, to reach beyond yesterday's attainments. Man is forever at war with the past.
So even when we overcome the blatant evils which inhabit our world, even when we succeed in bringing to light the goodness that is the essential nature of G‑d's creation--shall we ever experience peace and tranquility? Wherever we turn, we encounter turmoil. The solar system spins like a top, the galaxies simmer and revolve. The earth's core is aboil, its atmosphere storms, its oceans churn. Physical life is sustained by movement--the throb of the heart, the contraction and expansion of the lungs. Seemingly "inanimate" matter is a cauldron of motion on the nuclear, atomic and sub-atomic levels. Motion means change, and every change is a struggle--the struggle to vanquish the status quo and replace it with a new reality.
The primary culprit responsible for this struggle is the very phenomenon of time. Time is what gives us a past to abandon, a present with which not to suffice, a future towards which to strive. Time is the mother of motion, change, and struggle; time is the canvas upon which all battles of life are etched. It would seem that as long as we exist in time, as long as our lives are defined by its pulse and flux, the battle of life will rage on.
Can we transcend time? A timeless existence would be free of motion, stress and strife. But would it allow for challenge, improvement and progression?
Will it ever end? Should it ever end?
The Creation of Time
Each day has its particular function (Zohar, part III, 94b)
Time, our sages tell us, is a created entity, willed into being by the Almighty out of a prior state of nonexistence. Time did not exist before G‑d created the universe not simply because there were no physical beings or forces, and thus no events to mark the passage of time, but rather because the entity of time--its nature, its substance, its very notion--had not yet been created by G‑d.
G‑d's creation of the universe spanned seven days, each of which saw the creation of a new class of elements particular to the intrinsic nature of that day. For these seven days served (and continue to serve) as channels for the seven divine attributes (sefirot) that the Almighty chose to invest in His creation of our reality. The attribute of chessed, with its giving or bestowing nature, defines the creations of the first day; the things created on the second day embody constraint and severity, in keeping with the attribute of gevurah; and so on.
What is true of creation as a whole is also true of the particular creation called time. Time, like the universe it underlies, was created in seven days because it possesses seven distinct qualities--on each day of creation, another dimension of time was brought into being.
In other words, not only is time per se an original creation, but also the divisions and cycles by which it is measured and defined are entities created by the Almighty. The day, week, month and year are not arbitrary measures of time, artificial handles on a basically theoretical reality, invented by man so that he may make appointments or plan his vacation. Rather, they reflect the intrinsic texture and character of time.
Most basic of these is the week. The creation of time over seven days means that time is a seven-hued spectrum: chessed-time was created on the first day, gevurah-time on the second day, and so on. It was not until "G‑d concluded, on the seventh day, the works which He had made" that the seven basic components of time were completed and fixed in place as a seven-day cycle.
This explains why, in Hebrew, Sunday is called Yom Rishon, "the first day," Monday is Yom Sheini, "the second day," and so on. This is not merely a reference to the first week of time, in which Sunday was the first day ever and Monday the second. Each Sunday is literally a first day, the first of a new time cycle which repeats, from the beginning, the seven qualities of time.
The Element of Rest
G‑d concluded on the seventh day the works He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all the works He had made (Genesis 2:2)
The above verse appears to contradict itself. Did G‑d conclude His work on or before the seventh day? Were there six or seven days of creation?
Our sages explain: What was the world lacking? Rest. When Shabbat came, rest came. On Shabbat G‑d created the element of rest--the final and culminating brick in the edifice of creation.
Time, too, was almost complete on the eve of the first Shabbat, lacking only the element of rest. With the creation of Shabbat-time--time possessing the quality of rest--the cycle of time was closed.
But can rest be considered a characteristic of time? Is not time the very antithesis of rest?
But that is precisely the point. Shabbat represents an area in time that transcends time's own basic definition. Time, though synonymous with motion and change, also includes an element of rest--potential to create, within the framework of time, an area of permanence and serenity. A potential to bring tranquility to the struggles and fluctuations of life.
So while the Torah defines the weekday aspect of our lives as "going out to war on your enemies" (Deuteronomy 21:10--according to the Chassidic masters, this is a statement on the state of the soul as descended into a material world), on Shabbat it proclaims: "Remain each man in his place; no man shall go out of his place on the day of Shabbat" (Exodus 16:29). If our mission in life is to go out--to vanquish the negative, to perfect the imperfect, to extend oneself beyond the limitations of one's presently defined self--it also includes the potential for rest, for settling down, for the peace of finding one's true I and place. Life includes not only the challenge of getting there, but also the fulfillment of being there.
On the first Shabbat, there was no darkness. The light lasted for 36 hours (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 11:2)
Shabbat has a profound effect on the entire week. If, in our daily lives, we experience not only the drive for achievement but also satisfaction over what has been achieved; if we have the ability not only to vanquish the prevalent reality but also to transform it into an ally and friend; if our life is not only an ongoing quest but also a series of attainments--it is because Shabbat, an island of rest in a sea of flux, the motionless axis of the spinning circle of time, radiates its essence to the other six components of the week-cycle.
But if every day of our week has something of Shabbat in it, on Shabbat itself we enter into a dimension of time whose essence is rest and tranquility. "Six days a week you shall labor," commands the Torah, "and you shall do all your work; the seventh day is Shabbat to G‑d" (Exodus 20:9-10). But how, asks the Midrash, can you do all your work in six days? Even to conclude all your work in the course of a lifetime is no small feat! But on Shabbat, explain our sages, "all your work" is indeed "done." Shabbat is not only a break in the toil of life; it is a taste of its ultimate completion and realization.
On Shabbat, we cease to struggle with the world not because the task of perfecting it is on hold, but because on Shabbat the world is perfect: we relate to what is perfect and unchanging in it. We cease to battle darkness not merely to recoup our strength for the next onslaught, but because there is no darkness--the light which we have created through our positive deeds, obscured during the week by the veil of mundanity which envelopes our workday lives, is now perceptible to our more rarefied selves.
This better explains why each Sunday is indeed a first day. Shabbat is a venture into the realm of timelessness that lies beyond the struggles that characterize our weekday lives. Following each Shabbat, we return to a time-bound existence. Time, in the sense of motion and flux, begins anew.
Yet Shabbat is but a foretaste of the day that is wholly Shabbat and rest, for life everlasting. The seven-day week is a microcosm of a far greater time-span: the entirety of history is also a week comprised of six workday millennia and a seventh millennium of rest--the era of Moshiach (Nachmanides' commentary on Genesis 2:3).
On the weekly level, Shabbat is a day on which we experience the perfection that has been achieved through our efforts of the past six days to develop and refine our world. On the cosmic level, the era of Moshiach is when the combined attainments of all generations of history will be realized. A time when every positive deed, word and thought of the six millennia of human endeavor will result in a truly tranquil world--a world free of discord and strife, a world suffused with the wisdom, goodness and perfection of its Creator.
The Reversal of Time
Students of Torah have no rest, not in this world and not in the world to come, as it is written (Psalms 84:8): "They go from strength to strength, beheld by G‑d in Zion" (Talmud Brachot 64a)
Yet Shabbat is an integral part of time. Even the messianic age is an era in time--a seventh millennium of history. Obviously, these are also arenas for progression and achievement. For were they to represent wholly static states of being, why regard them as epochs in time?
On the most basic level we might explain that, indeed, both the work-week and Shabbat, both the six millennia of history and the era of Moshiach, are times for advancement and progression, and that the difference lies in the manner in which this is achieved. Our workweek (and workmillennia) challenges include dealing with outright evil and negativity, so progress inevitably involves struggle. On Shabbat, however, and to an even greater extent, in the age of Moshiach, advancement and progression means the tranquil graduation from good to better, the attainment of greater heights within the infinite realm of good itself.
If today we fight to eliminate war and hatred, in the era of Moshiach, when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares," the pursuit of peace will mean finding deeper and more meaningful ways for people to fuse their differences into a symphonious whole. If today we must struggle to defeat illness, the medicine of the seventh millennium will concern itself with the further perfection of good health and the enhancement of the bond between body and soul. If today we must battle ignorance, in the era when the world shall be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea, the quest for wisdom will be for greater and greater degrees of insight into the infinite truth of truths.
Nevertheless, this does not fully answer the question. For any change, any departure from a previous state, is ultimately a battle and struggle, albeit a far more subtle battle and struggle than the conquest of evil. Again we ask: How can any form of progress be defined as a state of rest?
But progress may have two directions: outward and inward. The equation of progress with struggle, of graduation with change, is valid when we speak of going out of our place, of reaching beyond what we are to make more of ourselves. But there is also a progress that is an inward journey, a journey to uncover deeper dimensions to our own being.
On such an inward journey, each successive station is not a change, but the very opposite of change: it is a state that is more consistent with who and what we truly are. It is rest in the truest sense: a settling into one's most essential place and identity.
For G‑d created man in His image to reflect His own goodness and perfection. In the workday phase of our existence, the mantle of corporeality that shrouds our world and encases our souls causes us to live a life that is at odds with our true identity and essence. So the betterment of ourselves and our world is a struggle, a battle to change reality (or rather, what to our perception is reality) into something which is (again, to our perception) beyond us. But in truth, this "reality" is a distortion of our true selves, while the elusive beyond is our true self.
When six millennia of struggle and achievement will come to fruition, when six millennia of battling darkness will reveal the light within, we will experience an era that is wholly Shabbat and rest. This will not be a golden age of retirement for humanity, for the potential within us is as infinite as the divine perfection it reflects. But the direction of progress will be reversed: from a conflict-ridden, outward-bound quest for change, to a serene, inward-bound encounter with self.
This reversal of the flow of time is not confined to the seventh millennium. Every Shabbat is a taste of this future time, and a provider of its tranquility to the entire week. While yet in the midst of the war of life, we are enabled to experience moments of true rest. Even as we struggle to transcend the imperfections of a more external self, we can touch base with the goodness and perfection that lies at the core of each and every one of us.