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Salvation through Labor, a prayer for the Sabbath before Labor Day, adapted from the writings of A.D. Gordon by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1945)


Source (Hebrew)Translation (English)

for the Sabbath before Labor Day
וְהָיָה בַיּוֹם הַהוּא
וְנִתְּנָה בְךָ בֶּן־אָדָם
רֽוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה. וְהִרְגַּשְׁתָּ רֶֽגֶשׁ חָדָשׁ
רָעָב חָדָשׁ.
לֹא־רָעָב לַלֶּֽחֶם וְלֹא־צָמָא לַכֶּֽסֶף
כִּי אִם לַעֲבוֹדָה׃
In the day that is to come,
you will be given, O man,
a new spirit, and be stirred by new feelings,
by a new hunger,
not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for riches,
but a hunger and thirst for work.
וּמָצָֽאתָ עֹֽנֶג בְּכׇל־עֲבוֹדָה אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲבֹד׃
And you will take pleasure in all the work that you do.
וְשַׂמְתָּ לֵב לַעֲבֹד כׇּל־עֲבוֹדָה וְכׇל־מַעֲשֶׂה בְּתוֹךְ הַטֶּֽבַע.
בְּתוֹךְ הָעֲבוֹדָה הָעוֹלָמִית בְּתוֹךְ הַחַיִּים הָעוֹלָמִיִּים וְהַמֶרְחָב הָעוֹלָמִי׃
You will give heed to do all your work as part of Nature,
as part of the work of the universe and its expansiveness.
וְהָיָה בַעֲמָדְךָ רְֶגַע
לְיַשֵּׁר אֶת־קוֹמָתְךָ
וְלִשְׁאֹף רֽוּחַ
וְשָׁאַפְתָּ לֹא רַק אֲוֵיר לִנְשִׁימָה.
וְהִרְגַּשְׁתָּ כִּי שׁוֹאֵף אַתָּה אֶל קִרְבְּךָ עוֹד דְּבַר־מַה כָּמוּס אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵדַע מָה הוּא.
אֲבָל אֲשֶׁר יַפְרֶה אֶת־הַרְגָּשָׁתְךָ וְאֶת־מַחְשַׁבְתֶּֽךָ.
אֲשֶׁר יוֹסִיף חַיִּים וְאוֹר לְרוּחֶֽךָ׃
And when you pause for a moment
to straighten your back,
and to take a deep breath,
it is not only air that you will inhale;
you will breathe in also a subtle something
that will fructify your feeling and thinking,
and add life and light to your spirit.
וְהָיֹה יִהְיוּ לְךָ רְגָעִים אֲשֶׁר כְּמוֹ תִּתְמוֹגֵג כֻּלְךָ בְּתוֹךְ הָאֵין־סוֹף׃
You will have moments when your whole being seems to dissolve into the Infinite.
אָז תֵּאָלֵם דּוּמִיָּה.
לֹא רַק הַדִּבּוּר כִּי גַם הַשִׁירָה
תִּהְיֶה בְעֵינֶֽיךָ כְּחִלּוּל הַקֹּֽודֶשׁ וְאַף גַּם הַמַּחְשָׁבָה.
וְהִשַּׂגְתָּ אֶת־סוֹד הַשְּׁתִיקָה וּקְדֻשָּׁתָהּ.
וְהִרְגַּשְׁתָּ דָבָר אֲשֶׁר אֵין לְבַטְּאוֹ רַק בַּעֲבוֹדָה.
וְעָבַדְתָּ בְכֹֽחַ בְּעֹז בְּשִׂמְחָה׃
At such times you will be too overcome to speak.
Not only speech but even song,
yea, even thought, will seem sacrilege.
Then will you realize the secret of silence and its holiness;
you will be driven by that ineffable urge which can be expressed only through work,
and you will labor with strength, with vigor and with joy.
וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בַּת־קוֹל יוֹצֵאת מִתּוֹךְ עֲבוֹדָתְךָ
וְאוֹמֶֽרֶת. עִבְדוּ בְּנֵי־אָדָם כֻּלְכֶם עֲבֹֽדוּ׃
And out of your work a divine voice will speak to you
saying: ‘Work, men: every one of you, work!’
וְיָדַעְתָּ אָז וַהֲשִׁיבוֹתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶֽךָ
כִּי יֵשׁ בַּעֲבוֹדָה אוֹצַר־רֽוּחַ כָּזֶה
אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה רוֹאֶה רַק אֶֽפֶס קָצֵֽהוּ
רַק צַד אֶחָד רַק פִּנָּה אֶחָת׃
Then you will know and take to heart
that in work there is so vast a spiritual treasure
that you can glimpse but a minute part of it,
but a single corner of it.
וְאַחֲרֵי הַבַּת־קוֹל הַטֶּֽבַע עוֹנֶה אָמֵן.
לֵאמֹר. עִבְדוּ בְּנֵי־אָדָם.
אַל תִּקְטַן עֲבוֹדַתְכֶם בְּעֵינֵיכֶם
אֵת אֲשֶׁר הֶחֱסַֽרְתִּי
לְמַֽעַן הַשְׁלִימִי אֲנִי
אֶת־הֶחָסֵר לָכֶם׃
And to that divine voice all Nature responds, ‘Amen,’
as if to say: ‘Work, man,
let not work appear trivial to you.
Then will you, O man,
fulfil what is lacking in me,
so that I, Nature,
may fulfil what is lacking in you.’

Mel Scult writes, “Kaplan had always believed that one way to compose new liturgy was to take an inspiring essay and turn it into a prayer” (The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan Indiana University Press, 2013, p. 209). This prayer for the Shabbat before Labor Day, “Salvation through Labor,” was adapted by Rabbi Mordecai Menaḥem Kaplan from האדם והטבע (Man and Nature, 1924) by Aaron David Gordon, and can be found on p. 548-551 of his The Sabbath Prayer Book (New York: The Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, 1945). The translation was attributed in the Sabbath Prayer Book to its editors (Mordecai Kaplan & Eugene Kohn, assisted by Ira Eisenstein and Milton Steinberg). More on A.D. Gordon’s Man and Nature can be read from Hillel Halkin in his essay in Moment Magazine, “The Self-Actualizing Zionism of A.D. Gordon” (18 February 2018). Writes Halkin,

Although it is never quite clear whether Man and Nature is written by a pantheist for whom nature and God are one, or by a deist for whom nature proceeds from God, it is the insistence on a life lived in conjunction with nature and having no substitute in religious practice, prayer, or meditation that keeps Gordon’s book from being a mere restatement of ḥasidic or general mystical themes. Yet its author is neither a “nature lover” nor a primitivist. He has no interest in the naturalist’s study of nature or in the vacationer’s appreciation of it, both of which treat it as an object of consciousness, thus perpetuating the rift with it; nor does he wish to roll back civilization in its name. “When you return to nature,” he writes “return not to your starting point or empty-handed. Be like the traveler who has circled the globe and comes home again wiser, more experienced, and purged of the superfluous, but also wealthier and enriched by all he has seen and felt, by his material no less than his spiritual acquisitions.” Living with nature does not demand the abandonment of railroads and electricity. It demands participation rather than exploitation.

And this, says Gordon, means physical work. Nature itself is continually at work. It is always creating, always producing; the only way to join it is to work alongside it. “In all your ways, in all your life,” states Man and Nature, rising to a prophetic tone, “learn to be a partner in the labor of Creation.”

On that day, O Man, you shall be given a new spirit. New, too, will be your emotions and your hunger—not for bread, nor for wealth, but for work. You shall joy in all the work that you perform, in all that you do . . . and you shall do it in nature, sharing the world’s exertion, its life, and its expanse. Thus shall you work in the field, and thus shall you work in your home, and thus shall you build your home. And as you work you shall think of the world as your workshop and of nature and you as its workmen. On that day you shall say: “Beautiful is nature in its form, but more beautiful yet in the spirit of its striving.” When you pause to stretch your limbs and take a deep breath, you will be breathing more than air. . . . You will know the bliss of being in the Infinite.





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