Sabbath Blues

My favorite time of the week begins in the late afternoon of the Jewish Sabbath and ends at nightfall. It comprises roughly the time from the conclusion of the Sabbath Afternoon Prayer to the beginning of the Evening Prayer. It spans about one and a quarter hours. Its starting and ending times by the clock vary from week to week, for prayer times are governed by the sun. What is constant, however, is that sunset, twilight, and nightfall occur during this time.

When I was growing up, I often heard my mother say that dusk was her favorite time of day. Frequently, she would preface this statement by saying, as the time neared, “I feel blue.” The blue she felt was not that of the blues, the musical genre. Instead, it was a kind of melancholy, a sweet sadness, engendered, I believe, by the colors of the evening sky. During twilight, in the west, the clouds take on a reddish-orange hue, while in the east, the sky displays a rich palette of purple, blue, and indigo. In Beersheba, where I live, the air quickly cools as the sun moves below the horizon, and often a light breeze starts up. These physical phenomena make this time of day appealing to me. But, of course, they happen at this time every day of the week. What’s unique about their Sabbath occurrence?

For one thing, by the time they happen on the Sabbath, I have enjoyed delicious meals, restful sleep, and tranquillity resulting from being completely unplugged from the world. My computer and phone are off. All the lights needed to get me through the Sabbath were turned on before it began. The cooking was previously completed. I do no creative labor. I pray, learn Torah, study with a friend, spend time with my wife, read, nap, take the dog for a lazy walk. There is no newspaper, the last one arrived on Friday morning; the next one will come on Sunday morning. I have enjoyed my freedom. This happens only on the Sabbath. The other days of the week are different.

Finally, there is a spiritual meaning for this Sabbath time. I am nearing the end of my day of rest. The world has not ended, nor has the messianic era begun. I need to separate this sacred time from the profane, secular, time, which is about to start. In the coming week, I will deal with bills, purchases, errands, repairs. Before the Afternoon Prayer service, I greeted people with the words “Shabbat Shalom,” Sabbath Peace. After the Evening Service, I said to them “Shavua Tov,” Good Week. There is a ritual performed at home, also sometimes in the synagogue, marking the separation of these sacred and profane times. I complete it, sing of my longing for the coming of the Messianic Age, and I start my new week refreshed by my Sabbath rest.

May you enjoy a period of rest and renewal every week however you do it!

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—
I keep it, staying at Home—
With a bobolink for a Chorister—
And an Orchard, for a Dome—¹

¹Emily Dickinson, No. 324 [1862], st. 1. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson [1960], ed. by Thomas H. Johnson

Photograph © Anne J. Guthrie, 2019.

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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