Can you really “travel through time” in Israel?

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The Western Wall on Shabbat (Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons)

Sure you can, and especially on the Sabbath Day!

A traditional Jewish saying goes, “More than Israel has kept the Sabbath; it is the Sabbath that has kept Israel.” And while technically it is the nation and the people of Israel who were the ones keeping the seventh day holy and separate from all other days, still this old proverb points to a deep and powerful truth regarding the worth and importance of the Sabbath.

As it is written in Genesis 2:2-3, “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done, then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Anyone who has ever visited Israel during the Sabbath knows what I am writing about. It seems that the entire nation enters a different realm during this 24-hour period beginning Friday evening and ending Saturday evening. Commerce shuts down to a minimal including retail, shopping malls and grocery stores, public transportation stops completely, most folks spend the day relaxing, worshipping, or with family, and even El Al, Israel’s national airline, does not fly. Naturally, the Orthodox Jewish residents of Israel observe the Sabbath with great dedication and attention to rabbinical instruction and tradition. However, the non-observant Israelis, including the nation’s many non-Jewish minorities, are as grateful and committed to enjoying their Sabbaths as their Jewish orthodox neighbors are.

So, how exactly do I “time travel” during the Sabbath Day?

While the term “Seventh Day” appears in the Bible many times starting with the creation account in Genesis chapter two, the actual name “Sabbath” (“Shabbat” in the Hebrew) appears for the first time in Exodus chapter 16 in the story of the miraculous Manna provision and God’s instructions on how to collect and enjoy it. Here, for the first time, the seventh day is given its unique and special name, Shabbat. This name will appear nearly 130 times from that point on throughout our bibles with dozens of mentions in the gospels (chiefly relating to Jesus’ ministry in the Galilean synagogues), with the last mention in the book of Acts chapter 18 when Paul ministered in the Corinthian Synagogue.

Church history also indicates that many streams of Christianity throughout the ages adhered to and observed the Sabbath Day as THE day to rest and worship according to the biblical mandate. The Sunday emphasis entered Christendom mostly as a byproduct of anti-Semitic sentiments seeking to distance the Church from her Hebraic and biblical roots. By now, any effort to observe the biblical Sabbath in the West is seriously counter-cultural and challenging, and the answer might be in the approach of leaders such as the righteous Count Zinzendorf of the Moravian Movement who embraced both Sabbath and Sunday as days to be observed and celebrated by God’s children everywhere. Concerning keeping the Sabbath, he wrote in 1738, “That I have employed the Sabbath for rest for many years already, and our Sunday for the proclamation of the Gospel.”

The totality of human activity is governed by a few cycles of time that are common to all people groups, nations and cultures. The DAY is the basic 24 hour period during which the earth makes a full turn around its own axis, giving us the day and night periods that order our constant and regular activities. The MONTH is the time it takes for the moon to complete a full orbit around the earth, averaging between 29-30 days depending on the calendar used. The YEAR measures the time it takes the earth to complete one full orbit around the sun, 365 to 366 days according to the Gregorian calendar; giving us the four seasons of the year and a measuring tool for long term human activities. The seven-day WEEK, however, is unique and different from these previous time cycles since it does not depend on any of the celestial bodies or astronomical movements in the heavens for its existence or repetitions.

The seven-day week and the Sabbath as its crowning day stands alone by divine decree. It is not hinging on cosmic schedules of celestial bodies, nor does it influence the annual seasons of growth and harvest on earth. The week was given and it exists for two simple and profound reasons; 1- to commemorate God’s original work of creating the universe, and 2- to celebrate the Sabbath day as God’s gift to His children; a time set apart to rest, to pause from the labors and frantic activities of life, and to worship Him alone in total peace and joy. For those who have eyes to see, the Sabbath is a 24-hour period when the hectic tyranny of the world stops, and heaven kisses earth for a moment every seven days.

So how do we “time travel?” All of God’s appointed feasts, fasts and observances are meant to draw the heart of the believer to Him, to higher realms, since they all provide a glimpse into Kingdom realities. The Passover shows us the purpose and purity of the Lamb of God, Pentecost invites us to the well of Living Spirit Waters we so badly need in this parched life. Tabernacles brings us into the coming Kingdom of Messiah returning to reign on earth. However, the Sabbath Day of rest, repeating its magnificent visit every seventh day, speaks to the deepest longings in the heart of humankind. Peace, Shalom.

Each time a person of faith observes or celebrates any of God’s appointed times, he or she is spiritually inspired to taste and experience a little bit of heaven. By the spirit, awakened through the new birth to God’s presence and purpose, the believer can temporarily “transcend” to a different realm, to God’s Kingdom where He alone is sovereign, and there experience firsthand a taste of God’s marvelous reality spoken of in His Word. In this sense, the spiritual person “travels” to a different place and time other than the here and now, fulfilling the ancient directive, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8.

In my opinion, the Sabbath provides all of us the best “launching pad” for these spiritual experiences of refreshment and inspiration. It comes often, every seven days; it is not subject to change or modification according to the different celestial calendars; it is simple to observe (if you adhere to the Word of God rather than to man’s traditions); and it embodies God’s greatest promise and our deepest longing. Peace, Shalom.

Jesus, when confronted by religious hypocrites about the disciples chewing on grain they had collected in the fields during the Sabbath replied, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28. No wonder traditional Judaism refers to the Sabbath Day as the Queen of days, the crown of the weekly cycle, a welcomed and needed reminder of the greater truths that govern our lives.

As it is written, “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it… for we who have believed do enter that rest … For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’… Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’

For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…” Hebrews 4:1-11.

The fact is that nowhere on earth will you experience the Sabbath in its absolute beauty, transcending grace and ability to “take us to that different place and time” as you will when visiting Israel.