It is estimated that in 2019 alone, advertising spending worldwide surpassed five hundred ninety billion dollars. So ubiquitous is the reach of advertising that the average person is exposed to nearly ten thousand marketing images every day.1

The main objective of the marketing industry is to make potential consumers feel a sense of lack, and specifically one that can only be filled through their product and the accompanying purchaser’s high. According to this view, we must constantly strive to have the newest, the best, and the most in order to achieve happiness.

In contrast to this never-ending pursuit of “more,” Ben Zoma taught in the Talmud: “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his lot.”2 Similarly, the philosopher Seneca said: “It’s not the man who has too little but the man who craves more who is poor.”

This way of thinking is poignantly captured in the following story. Kurt Vonnegut once met the novelist Joseph Heller at a party hosted by a wealthy hedge-fund manager. Vonnegut pointed out that their wealthy host made more money in one day than Heller would ever make from his best-selling novel, Catch-22.

Heller replied, “Yes, but I have something he will never have: Enough.”

On the most basic level, Shabbat is a day of enough. On Shabbat, we are invited to embrace the fact that whatever we did or did not get done in the preceding six days, whatever we acquired or did not acquire, was exactly enough. This day of enough welcomes us into an oasis in time and spirit, where we can drink deeply from an infinite wellspring, suspending, at least temporarily, our weekday anxieties around scarcity or success.

Shabbat, then, is a twenty-four-hour period that enables us to step off the manic treadmill of physical existence and progress so that we might experience the power and blessing of enough. For six days of the week, we strive to produce and perfect, but on Shabbat we stop to appreciate the intrinsic perfection that is already present within creation. We cease all of our efforts to acquire and amass, and instead we celebrate the world around and within us.

Shabbat is our weekly reminder that a joyous life comes not from having the things we want, but from wanting the things we have.

This shift in perspectival priority is represented by the two loaves of challah traditionally placed on every Shabbat table. The presence of these two loaves is meant to remind us of the two portions of manna that fell each Friday in the wilderness, so that on Shabbat our ancestors could enjoy what they already had rather than seek out what they lacked.3 It is this very ability to stop our search for more that allows us to recognize the blessings present in what we already have.

On a deeper level, Shabbat reminds us not only that we have enough, but that we are enough!

One of the most toxic phrases in the English language is: How much is he or she worth?

Such a statement reveals a perverse metric, vulgarly confusing and equating one’s net worth with their self-worth.

In contrast to most of our lives, which we spend perpetually doing and “becoming,” Shabbat is a day of just “being.” By slowing us down and focusing our attention on matters of the spirit and family, Shabbat reminds us that our value isn’t determined by volatile markets or fluctuating bank accounts. Rather, it derives from the infinite G‑d, Who chose to be in a relationship with each of us personally, and Whose love for us is unlimited and unconditional.

In his book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel eloquently expresses this vital shift in consciousness: “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things, of space, becomes our sole concern.”

Shabbat is that realm of time in which we allow ourselves to just be, without fixating on what we might become.

This illuminates the deeper meaning behind the verse: Six days you may work, and on the seventh day you shall rest.4

For six days of the week, we seek to “work on” and perfect ourselves, others, and the universe. However, on Shabbat, we recognize and celebrate the inherent point of perfection within all of creation.

Interestingly, the specific activities prohibited on Shabbat are derived from the different forms of work that went into constructing the Tabernacle.5 The common denominator of these forbidden activities is not that they are energy consuming, per se, but that they are creative and constructive in nature.6 Some examples include planting, cooking, sewing, building, transforming material, and bringing things into being, such as lighting a fire. On Shabbat, we cease from such creative activity in order to be reminded that the source of our creativity is the Creator of all, and that our existence and value does not come from productivity alone. While creating is something we do, it does not define who we are. Life has its own independent, infinite value that far surpasses any utility we could possibly offer.

Heschel puts it this way: “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

These days, it is popular to say that Shabbat is particularly relevant to our age of increasingly pervasive and invasive technology, as more and more people feel the need for a day of unplugging.

Interestingly, this was a revolutionary idea when first introduced/practiced by the Jews, as Thomas Cahill illustrates in his book, The Gifts of the Jews: “No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest…the Sabbath is surely one of the simplest and sanest recommendations any god has ever made; and those who live without such septimanal punctuation are emptier and less resourceful.”

While this is certainly true, and Shabbat is particularly helpful towards this end, what Shabbat offers should not be confused with what Shabbat is! Unplugging is a form of “rest from” or even “freedom from.” While such “detoxing” is absolutely necessary, Shabbat is much more than that. Its specialness is most fully expressed not in what we don’t do on this day, but in what we do to create the sacred mind and soul space in which we can simply be. Therefore, Shabbat is not just a means to an end, it is an endless end in itself.

The Hebrew word for rest is nach. Shabbat, however, means to pause or to settle, from the word shev, meaning to sit—to simply stop. There is “rest from,” and there is “rest for.” Shabbat is not just a weekend—a day to rest from the previous week’s work—nor is it just a day to recharge in anticipation of a busy week ahead; it is a proactive pause for its own sake, meant to reconnect us to our souls.

In the words of American author Dan Seidman:7 “When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops. But when you press the pause button on human beings, they start. You start to reflect, you start to rethink your assumptions, you start to reimagine what is possible, and, most importantly, you start to reconnect with your most deeply held beliefs. Once you’ve done that, you can begin to reimagine a better path.”

Shabbat is thus a day of spiritual recalibration, storytelling, and appreciating family and community; it is a day of higher vision, when we take the time to remember not only what we want, but, most importantly, why we’re here.

All of this is included in the letters that spell Shabbat, which, when rearranged, spell tashev,8 to return. On Shabbat, we return to the land of our souls. Furthermore, the Talmud9 teaches that on Shabbat, a person receives an additional soul, or expanded level of spiritual consciousness. Thus, for one day each week, we set aside our material ambitions in order to more actively explore our spiritual origins, essence, and purpose.

This illuminates the fact that Shabbat is infinitely more than simply a day of rest. As the verse states, And G‑d blessed the seventh day and declared it holy… As evocative and powerful as this statement is, the question remains: What exactly makes Shabbat holy and what does that mean?

Before Kiddush on Shabbat day, we recite V’shamru, a passage from the Torah describing the six days of creation. The passage ends with the word vayinafash, typically translated as [and on the seventh day] He rested.

However, there is a deeper interpretation of this passage, based on an etymological understanding of the word vayinafash, which shares the same root letters as the word nefesh, the vivified soul.

Significantly, the word nefesh can also refer to the act of breathing, particularly in the context of catching one’s breath. Read in this way, we can surmise that the world itself is being infused with spirit on Shabbat from a concentrated influx of Divine breath.

This connection between rest, spirit, and revivification through breath, alluded to in the word vayinafash, suggests that the entirety of creation was and is ensouled on Shabbat, the seventh day, a phenomenon referred to by the Kabbalists as aliyat haolamot, the elevation of the worlds. This spiritualization through Divine breath that the world experiences on Shabbat is congruent with the ensoulment of the human being through the medium of G‑d’s breath on the sixth day of creation.

When we harmonize with that cosmic energy and rhythm, we enter into complete alignment with our soul, with the Creator, and with all of creation. Such is the gift of Shabbat. “It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”10

It Happened Once

In This Is My G‑d, Pulitzer Prize winning author Herman Wouk describes his own experience with Shabbat observance:

The Shabbat has cut most sharply athwart my own life when one of my plays has been in rehearsal or in tryout.

The crisis atmosphere of an attempt at Broadway is a legend of our time, and a true one; I have felt under less pressure going into battle at sea.

Friday afternoon, during these rehearsals, inevitably seems to come when the project is tottering on the edge of ruin. I have sometimes felt guilty of treason, holding to the Shabbat in such a desperate situation. But then, experience has taught me that a theater enterprise almost always is in such a case. Sometimes it does totter to ruin, and sometimes it totters to great prosperity, but tottering is its normal gait, and cries of anguish are its normal tone of voice.

So I have reluctantly taken leave of my colleagues on Friday afternoon and rejoined them on Saturday night. The play has never collapsed in the meantime. When I return, I find it tottering as before, and the anguished cries as normally despairing as ever. My plays have encountered in the end both success and failure, but I cannot honestly ascribe either result to my observing the Shabbat.

Leaving the gloomy theater, the littered coffee cups, the jumbled scarred-up scripts, the haggard actors, the knuckle-gnawing producer, the clattering typewriter, and the dense tobacco smoke has been a startling change, very like a brief return from the wars.

My wife and my boys, whose existence I have almost forgotten in the anxious shoring up of the tottering ruin, are waiting for me, dressed in holiday clothes, and looking to me marvelously attractive.

We have sat down to a splendid dinner, at a table graced with flowers and the old Shabbat symbols: the burning candles, the twisted challah loaves, the stuffed fish, and my grandfather’s silver goblet brimming with wine. I have blessed my boys with the ancient blessings; we have sung the pleasantly syncopated Shabbat table hymns.

The talk has little to do with tottering ruins. My wife and I have caught up with our week’s conversation.

The boys, knowing that Shabbat is the occasion for asking questions, have asked them. We talk of Judaism. For me, it is a retreat into restorative magic.

Shabbat has passed much in the same manner. The boys are at home in the synagogue, and they like it.

They like even more the assured presence of their parents.

In the weekday press of schooling, household chores, and work—and especially in play producing time—it often happens that they see little of us. On Shabbat, we are always there, and they know it. They know too that I am not working and that my wife is at her ease. It is their day.

It is my day, too. The telephone is silent. I can think, read, study, walk, or do nothing. It is an oasis of quiet.

One Saturday night, my producer said to me, “I don’t envy you your religion, but I envy you your Shabbat.”

The Big Idea

Shabbat is not just a day to rest from the previous week’s work, nor simply a day to recharge in anticipation of a busy week ahead; it is a proactive pause for its own sake, meant to reconnect us to our souls and the Soul within all.