THE BLOG

Money and Shabbat

02/25/2015 10:36 am ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

Shabbat is so many things: time-marker, breathing-time, crazy-making, togetherness, space, prayer, silence... It is a day on which, according to the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, we are called:

"...to set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, . . . on which man avows his independence of that which is the world's chief idol . . . a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature-is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man's progress than the Sabbath? (The Sabbath, p. 27-29)"

Perhaps the best way for moderns to experience Shabbat, to enter the palace, without having to first take on the system of Shabbat-mitzvot, is to not use money on Shabbat. What would this mean? It would mean:

  • If you drive on Shabbat, you could not purchase gas. You would have needed to prepare your car for Shabbat by allowing it to function without money. Your care would become a Shabbat-vehicle.
  • If you enjoy coffee/tea, you would make it at home on (or better, before) Shabbat, or share it in someone else's home. It would not be about the accidental community of a coffee-shop -- it would be an intentional one. Your beverage would become a Shabbat-drink.
  • If you enjoy sports-events, and one were to happen on Shabbat, you would need to procure tickets in advance, so that the event had an element of Shabbat. You wouldn't purchase food there, you'd bring it with you. The sports-event would become a Shabbat-game.

The essential element of Shabbat is, for me, that everything becomes (or has the potential to become) transformed by the mindfulness that we set in motion before Shabbat. This is why electricity feels different when it is utilized through Shabbes-clocks (timers), and why a microphone feels different when it is utilized for prayer.

The imperative to be kodesh/holy is central to the experience of Shabbat as a day infused with meaning. And the difference between Kodesh and Chol (the opposite of Kodesh) is, I believe, God. God is the difference between Kodesh and Chol, and the definition of an act performed with Kedusha (Holiness) is the doer's mindfulness. And mindfulness can transform any act.

  • A flame can be used to destroy. Or it can sanctify time.
  • A hand can hang at a person's side. Or it can be used as a weapon. Or it can elevate someone else's life.
  • A piece of cloth can be used as a rag. Or it can clothe someone in need. Or it can be transformed into a Tallit, a prayershawl.
  • A car can be an ordinary thing. Or it can be a vehicle for connecting to sacred community.

Perhaps money is the best starting point for experiencing Shabbat. Money's impact is so universal in our lives that putting it aside is truly our greatest hope, an inescapable call to mindfulness which leads to independence of external obligation. Perhaps we could free the world, shatter destructive idols which trap us over and over again, by putting money aside one day each week.

Shabbat can transform everything, beginning with each of us.