What is the Sabbath Bee?

This website is the outcome of a game that I play every week with Shabbat. It is midrash—a living re-interpretation, a story designed to bring new ideas into an ancient institution and pull fresh understandings from a heavily examined religious structure.

For those familiar with the mystical side of Judaism or the Friday night liturgy, there’s nothing unusual about referring to Shabbat (or Shabbos, the Sabbath, Day of Rest, the Seventh Day, and other pseudonyms I’m sure I’m forgetting) as “the bride” or “the queen.” The white dress and the crown require a sizeable mental leap, since in our everyday comparisons of this-to-that, we rarely go so far as to compare days to people. I would probably get weird reactions if I tried telling a friend that he was like a breath of Thursday, and most personifications of days of the week invariably end with clichéd images—Monday with his briefcase, Sunday reading the paper during a leisurely breakfast.

In Shabbat’s case though, the talk of brides and queens is all about big, transcendent emotional connections. Shabbat demands certain behaviors, and the Jewish people scramble to obey these commands. The Jewish people are married to Shabbat because we’ve sworn an oath of loyalty to this day—with all of the grandeur and restrictions that a lifelong contract might entail. Every week is an opportunity to prepare a celebratory feast, to await sunset with the joy and jumping-up-and-down excitement of a groom about to meet his bride.

However, pictures of brides and queens can only tell some of the story. There are things that are true of Shabbat but not true of a bride. There are times when Shabbat might be more like a visiting uncle than a queen. And really, how should people within a representational government feel about queens? By calling Shabbat a queen, am I saying that it is respected, powerful and compassionate or am I calling it an impotent a symbol of an outdated system?

Also, I sometimes prefer to drop the bride imagery for something a little more heterosexual. Sometimes. Femininity is so deeply ingrained into Shabbat that it often feels… wrong… to give this day a Y chromosome. Still, if Shabbat can be a queen, doesn’t it stand to reason that he can also be a grandparent? Or a blanket? Or, to take an idea from the Kabbalist Shlomo Halevi, the ruins of a mighty city? How about a jealous girlfriend that sabotages your relationships with other people? There are definitely times in my life when Shabbat is the jealous girlfriend.

That brings up another reason why I put together the Sabbath Bee. Shabbat is different every week, because we are different every week. Sometimes Shabbat shows up with dancing shoes, other weeks with a cup of cocoa and a bedtime story. Whether or not it should be, Shabbat cannot be a wedding banquet every week. Sometimes the table is set and guests are arriving with covered casseroles, other times a quick shower and a sandwich are all I can manage before sunset. One week I might say, “Oh, it’s Friday again!” and the next, “Oh. It’s Friday. Again?” Shabbat can evoke both emotions, and everything in between.

Therefore, each week I let Shabbat come as it will. Some weeks Shabbat might be happy to give me a quick hug and let me return to my conversation with friends, while other nights the prospect of a mystical joining is so exhilarating that Shabbat and I run off to the nearest janitor’s closet together.

I hope that some of the vignettes will resonate and maybe even help my readers to expand their own ideas and feelings about Shabbat. Some of the passages, I know, will be meaningless or even off-putting to some. I sincerely hope that none come across as offensive. A living tradition inhales and exhales, and concepts that are greater than human endeavor cannot be fully described by any single finite comparison—or even a cacophony of them. Still, hundreds of thousands of facets all taken together might form a reasonable outline of crystalline perfection.