In his 2011 book The Gift of Rest, then-Senator Joseph Lieberman extolled the virtues of the Jewish Sabbath, focusing on its ability to give respite in the present age of ’round-the-clock work and technological interconnectedness. Contrasting the book with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s celebrated The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, Shalom Carmy notes that Lieberman succeeds better at conveying some of the burdens of Sabbath observance—for instance, in relating how he once trudged four miles to the Capitol in torrential rain to cast his vote on a Friday night. Carmy nonetheless raises questions:
Many of Lieberman’s observations about the natural human good of Sabbath rest can seem attractive to people looking to deepen their private and communal lives. Nonetheless, one can raise three skeptical questions. First, as we all know, the day-of-rest ideals of domestic and communal togetherness do not appeal to all individuals, families, or communities. For the Jew, the laws of Sabbath must be obeyed, and the social practices that form around them are hard to avoid, even by those who are not attracted to or enchanted by them. We all know this, but we do not always factor in the gap between the ideal and the reality, a gap that more often than not is overcome only by the power of obligation rather than good intentions.
Second, at least in my experience, the beauty of the Sabbath and its restrictions grow with familiarity and habit. The songs, the food, the rhythm sustain us to the degree that we take them for granted. . . . A lifetime of observance molds patterns of meaning and pleasure. Lastly, as Lieberman notes openly when he praises the opportunities and quality of Sabbath intimacy in married life, it doesn’t work unless you believe your observance is obligatory. It is not sufficient to adopt the Sabbath as one passing therapy among others. The day is an end in itself, not the means to other ends such as attaining inner peace or building strong relationships. . . .
Recovering our intimate relation with God, building community with family and friends, and freeing ourselves from dependence on mechanical connectedness and informational flooding require patience, persistence, frequent inconvenience, occasional suffering, and the consciousness of being commanded. Few of us look forward to long walks in drenching rains, but without the readiness to do so when it is demanded, the prospect of “heaven and everything else” [promised by Heschel] is liable to remain wishful thinking.