The Sabbath angels

National Poetry Month, Day 27 // Jews and some Christians observe today as the Sabbath, the week’s seventh day and a day to rest from their labors before beginning a new week. By sundown Friday, all work is to be completed and everything put in order for this holy day, which will end with sundown Saturday.

“Finish one day before you begin the next,” Emerson advised, “and interpose a solid wall of sleep between two.” What sleep does to frame the days, Sabbath does to frame the weeks. Finish one week before you begin the next, Sabbath says, and interpose a solid wall of rest between two. The discipline reminds us who we are, and whose we are, and helps us maintain a healthy perspective toward life – healthy in the eternal sense.

Keeping Sabbath does more than frame our weeks. It creates the quality of our weeks. Aldous Huxley, in “The Cicadas,” wrote that the choices we make create “The noble or the ignoble men we are, / The worlds we live in and the very fates.” So the choice to observe a holy Sabbath at the end of one week creates the order or disorder – the quality of ongoing creation – of the week to come.
Rabbi Victor E. Reichert, in relating an old Jewish legend of the Sabbath angels, framed the day’s importance in what has become for me an unforgettable way. I can hardly come to the end of any Friday without looking over my shoulder for these two angels. The legend doesn’t very often guarantee that I end the week and begin the Sabbath with a proper order in my life, but at the very least it gives me pause. Perhaps that pause is enough to preserve some trace of holy order in a life that can otherwise become too chaotic.

“The Sabbath Angels,” by Victor E. Reichert (1897-1990)

My mother lights, each Friday night,
Two Sabbath candles, tall and white.
Then reverently, with hands outspread,
The Hebrew prayer is softly said.
My Father lifts the Kiddush cup
And blessing wine and bread, we sup.

In their quaint way, our sages say
That angels visit us this day.
Who knows but what the legend’s true!
“Two angels follow every Jew
As he comes home on Friday night.
And if they find all neat and bright
(As our home always is that night)
The Good One says, ‘So may this be
Each week as we return to see.’
Against his will, the Angel Bad
Must say ‘Amen’ as if he’s glad
(Though really he is very sad).
But if things all are upside down
The kind Good Angel wears a frown.
The Wicked Angel in great glee
Prays next week still this sight to see
And that confusion rule again
While the sad Good Angel sobs, ‘Amen.’”

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