Two Kinds of Time and Shabbos

We say in the Friday night Amidah:

אַתָּה קִדַּשְׂתָּ אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לִשְׁמֶךָ, תַּכְלִית מַעֲשֶׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ, וּבֵרַכְתּוֹ מִכָּל הַיָּמִים, וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ מִכָּל הַזְּמַנִּים, וְכֵן כָּתוּב בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ: וַיְכֻלּוּ…

You sanctified the seventh day for Your Sake, the culmination of the making of heaven and earth,

and You blessed it from all the days

and You sanctified it from all the times.

And so it says in Your Torah, “And He culminated…”

So, trying to think about what I’m saying, I started wondering about the near-repetition. Presumably the value of sharing the concept as a couplet is because each shines light on a different nuance of the same idea. Why is beirakhto the more appropriate verb for Shabbos as a yom, and qidashto the right verb for Shabbos as a special time? Why is a day blessed, but a time sanctified?

Around 10 years ago, on parashas Miqeitz, I contrasted the cyclic and linear views of time. Much of this thought is a development on that theme, so here is some extensive quoting:

The parashah opens “Vayhi mikeitz sh’nasayim yamim — and it was at the end of a pair of years of days”….

This duplication of terms for time is echoed in next week’s parashah, when Ya’akov describes his age to Par’oh as “The days of the years of my travels…” as well as at the beginning of parashas Vayechi, in counting out Ya’akov avinu’s lifespan, “… And the days of Ya’akov was, the years of his life…”


Most ancient societies viewed time as cyclic. Among the motivations suggested for the building of the Tower of Bavel was the fear that the flood was part of a 1,656-year cycle, and they would need to prepare for a second flood.

The position is understandable. Plato concludes that since our means of measuring time was the cyclic movement of astronomical objects so must the time they define be cyclic. The month and its cycle of phases, the year and its cycle of seasons define a cycle of time. The seasonal cycle also shapes the farmer’s lifestyle into cycles. Time cannot be measured without a predictable repetition of events, be it the falling of grains of sand, the swing of a pendulum, the escapement of a clock, the vibration of a quartz crystal or the waves of light emitted by cesium atoms.


This mindset is alien to modern man. The contemporary western view of time is linear, a dimension — a progress from the primitive to the advanced. This notion that history progresses comes from Judaism, from our view of time as running from First Cause to Ultimate Purpose, a history spanning from Adam to the Messianic Era and beyond. … Linear time gives us a view of man in which he can redeem himself; he is not doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. On the other hand, Judaism simultaneously embraces a cyclic view of time. As the Hagaddah phrases the purpose of the seder, “A person is obligated to see himself as though he himself came out of Egypt.” Every Shavuos we are to accept the Torah anew. Our holidays not only repeat the cycle of the Exodus, they are tied to agricultural events and thereby the cycle of seasons. The holiday is both reliving the Sukkos of the desert as well as celebrating bringing in our crops.


… “Yom” represents a unit of progress. It is a unit of linear time, a progress from birth to death. The culmination of history is notably called “acharis hayamim” and in the navi, “yom Hashem”.

In contrast, “shanah” is from the same root as “two”, “to repeat”, “to learn”, or “to change”,….


R’ Aharon Kotler zt”l commented to a student on the occasion of the birth of the student’s son about the phrase “The bris should be be’ito ubizmano”, using both “eis” and “z’man” to denote its proper time. Rav Aharon explained the difference. If the baby is healthy, then the bris is at the pre-decided time, on the eighth day. If not, then it will be at the right time for that individual baby. Ideally the bris would be at both.

A z’man is a time that comes according to a pre-scheduled appointment, ready or not. It is a point in a shanah, in cyclic time that runs its celestial heartbeat regardless of human action. And so, the repeat of the exodus is “Z’man Cheiruseinu”, our time of freedom. An eis is a landmark in the course of progression. And so, one is “kovei’ah ittim baTorah”, one sets aside times for Torah.

So when call Shabbos a “yom“, we are emphasizing what new it brings to the world. It therefore makes sense to speak in terms of berakhah. “Berakhah is a term denoting increase”.

But when we call Shabbos a “zeman”, we aren’t speaking of its place in linear time, but Shabbos as a point in the cycle. Rather than speaking of progress, zemanim speak of reinforcing and rededicating what we already have. Returning back to that post on Miqeitz:

Shanah speaks of a retreat. A person can actively embrace that retreat, use it as a chance to build on what one already has. Or, it can be a time when he simply is a victim of circumstance.

While there is a need for progress, there is also a need to step back, to review, to develop the idea into something we can incorporate within ourselves and can use as a basis for future growth. It can be a time to regain a balance between technological progress and one’s basic humanity and values. If he embraces and uses the time, then he has achieved productive review, “years of days”.

So, Shabbos as a zeman, as a feature of the Shanah, is about sanctification, qedushah.

My principal my last year of High School, R/Dr Nachman Cohen, once said “Shabbos is an island in time which is the eternal present.” But in truth, it’s an island in both kinds of time. Shabbos is when we find spiritual focus to bless the progress of the week to come with meaning, and sanctify that which we already have.

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