The Eternal commanded the people to celebrate Shabbat – A day that is separated from the rest of the week by not working and filling the day with rest. Why does this make this day so important to Jews throughout history?
For six days God created all the universe, the earth, and all that is on the earth… the place we call home …“ Completed now were heaven and earth and all their host. On the seventh day, God had completed the work that had been done, ceasing then on the seventh day from all the work that [God] had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, and ceased from all the creative work that God [had chosen] to do.” (Genesis 2:1-3)
“Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day is a Sabbath of the Eternal your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, you male or female slave, or cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements – for in six days the Eternal made heaven and earth and seas (and all that is in them) and then rested on the seventh day; therefore the Eternal blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Fourth Commandment – Exodus 20:8-11)
“The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time; it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Eternal made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day [God] ceased from work and was refreshed.” (Exodus 34:15-17)
“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (A.J. Heschel – 1907-72 – author, activist and theologian)
“More than the Jewish People has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish People.” (Ahad Ha-am – 1856-1927, born in Ukrane, he was a cultural Zionist)
The five quotes featured above explain the basis of Shabbat. A holiday that comes every week… That doesn’t make it less important that the rest of the holidays that are celebrated with gusto once every year…. In fact, in many ways, Shabbat may be the most important holiday.
When the world was created the Eternal ceased from work and called the seventh day, a day of rest, holy – kadosh. The dictionary defines “holy” as follows:
1) Consecrated – dedicated or set apart for religious purposes
2) Saintly – devoted to service of God, a god, or a goddess
3) Sacred – relating to, belonging to, or coming from a divine being or person
4) Awe-inspiring – having a character that evokes reverence
So, if Shabbat is holy… it is dedicated to God … And, it is holy or kadosh indicating it is “separate” or “set apart.” Shabbat is separated from the rest of the week. Other “holy” items like the Torah and kosher foods are also separated from the ordinary and become special.
Shabbat is holy by becoming separate from the other days. It is a day of rest…. It is a day when we can spend time with our family and loved ones as opposed to time devoted to work…. It is a day we can study and think about subjects, that because of the time consumed by work, we can’t thank about during the other six days of the week. It is a day we can devote to God. There is time to spend in Temple or Synagogue. There is time to think about how we, as free individuals, fit into the world… and how we can act to improve the world in which we live.
A major reason that Shabbat has been so significant through the ages is the fact that it is a holiday that is celebrated in time… not in a particular space. Jews throughout history didn’t have to go to a holy land or a holy place to celebrate this special day. Wherever a Jew was – away from home or exiled to a foreign land – Shabbat could be celebrated. This special day helped create stability in the lives of Jews…. It has a set time – sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday – a set routine – Shabbat dinner, fixed prayers and rituals in the Shabbat eve and Saturday morning services, Saturday afternoon services, havdalah (Shabbat closing service) – Shabbat could be celebrated anywhere, with or without family. The holiday of Shabbat has helped the Jewish people through the ages keep themselves close to the faith … once a week – every week.
Through the ages there have been different customs and traditions used to celebrate Shabbat. If you know of an usual Shabbat custom or you are celebrating Shabbat in a unique manner, please let us know. Send us a comment or email. The JewishMeltingPot would like to share it with the rest of our readers.