I had entirely planned to get another Shlomo’s Drash done while on vacation last week, but things conspired against me. Well actually one thing did. The one thing took me totally by surprise, and I then began to wonder about that something in the African bush where I was on photo safari.
It started with a surprise that shouldn’t have been. The surprise came in the one piece of high tech to be prevalent even in the thickest jungle: the internet. At our safari lodge, I received a short message from Sweetie who was back home saying simply SHABBAT SHALOM. It was in that instant I realized I had totally forgotten Shabbat.
Interestingly, Genesis 1 ends with the creation of first animals and then men and women on day six. Then we read in Chapter 2
1. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. 3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He had rested from all his work which God created and made.
The Sabbath was the last thing made in creation. I’ve wondered why for quite a long time. My experience in the bush of South Africa had me thinking differently about that. Even with staying in luxury accommodations in the game loges throughout South Africa, this was a drop of civilization in a very large ocean of wilderness. Elephants, snakes, baboons, impalas and even leopards can walk into the lodge property any time they want – there are no fences here to stop them. Verner monkeys make the roofs their home just to steal food from guests, and occasionally the chef of the dining room. On these game reserves, we humans are in their world.
The world of the African Bush parallels the world the one ancient man made their home. For hunter gatherers it was tough but everything was there to survive. Rabbi Meir in the second century of the Common Era thought the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was wheat. He may have got a point there. When Humanity tasted wheat, he needed an entirely different world to use this plant. No more picking fruit out of a tree or tracking down a kill. The food was placed in the same place every year and cut out of the ground, stored, then ground sifted, mixed with water or oil and then placed near a fire to be baked or fried. Cultivating the ground, Adam’s curse for eating of the fruit, makes sense if it was wheat. Adam was to toil on the earth to make from the fruit something resembling a food product. A seventh day of rest punctuated six days of that hard labor.
In the Bush there is night and day, the rainy season and the dry season. There is no other sense of time. And even as a visitor for a few days, I lost my own sense of time here, and forgot about when Shabbat started. The hunter gatherer did not need Shabbat; their existence was a form of the Garden of Eden since they were already there. Like the prides of Lions I saw, they hunted a little and rested a lot, so different than Agriculture.
Last Shabbat I realized that God created Shabbat last for a good reason. Only those who live in a world of work need a Shabbat. While the text does not say it, I believe after my trip to Africa that Shabbat was the relief from the work of a man or woman who had tasted from the fruit of Knowledge. Time is measured differently by agriculture and thus civilization than by the wild. Time conspired against me and hid itself from me.
I did not observe Shabbat last week fully, yet I learned to appreciate where Shabbat fits into our lives and into our sense of time more fully than any other Shabbat. Shabbat is an Island in time like Heschel believes, but only when we care to measure time.