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Eschatological Sabbath

In one of my favorite formulations, the British novelist E.M. Forster wrote that “death destroys a man, but knowledge of death can save him.”

With that in mind, the sad spectacle of faithful fanatics intently preparing for the end of the world ought to encourage all of us to live more of our own days as if we were approaching some definitive conclusion. On this issue, I don’t believe there’s a sharp divide between Christians or Jews, religious or secular. Few Americans would choose to invest their last days in drunken revelry or playing slots at Vegas. Most of us would prefer shared moments with people we love and conversations that matter, with perhaps one more opportunity to savor the beauties of the natural world we will ultimately lose.

On the Saturday the Family Radio Ministries had designated for the world’s end, it occurred to me that this approach conformed to every detail of the traditional Sabbath. Philosophers and sages might urge us to live every day as if it might be our last, but observing Shabbat provides a framework for doing just that.

You gather for festive meals with friends and family, savoring the best available wines and lovingly prepared delicacies. According to tradition, the table talk should include religious discussion and consideration of holy texts. You also make your way to synagogue services on foot (no automotive transport), which involves a deeper appreciation of surroundings in your own neighborhood and provides still more communal connection.

Most important, Sabbath observance liberates you from the tyranny of the urgent—no ringing telephones, or beeping messages, or alarming news broadcasts. Specific injunctions prevent engagement in preparations for the week ahead; like those expecting the end of the world, Sabbath observers are, in our case temporarily, liberated from deadlines, or the need to make progress on projects, or to improve the world as you received it on sundown of Friday night.

The Sabbath is, in fact, described as a “taste of the world to come”—signifying the weekly deliverance of the faithful from the toils of mortality. But unlike the shattered souls who awaited their May Judgment Day in vain, we can return to the workday week renewed by fresh energy and sharper perspective.

- Michael Medved, "What the Judgment Day Hoopla Taught Us," The Daily Beast, May 27, 2011.