The Scriptures made us to understand that the Hebrew word Shabbat (Sabbath), a derivative of the verb meaning “cease” or desist, does not only mean the day of desisting from labor, but also means a day reserved or set apart by the Creator for a special purpose.
From all indications, that day belongs to the Most-High-our Maker and not to us. Therefore, it must not only be observed for him, but must certainly be observed following the procedures He prescribed.
He did not only command that the Sabbath should be “kept (observed)” as a Holy Day, He equally gave instruction on what should be done and what shouldn’t be done on that day.
Prior to that, He gave man six days to labor and do all his work.
“six days you shall labor and do all your work…’(Exod 20.9)
There was no restriction placed on man regarding how he chooses to use the six days. Rather, there is a positive command that he must labor and do some work for his sustenance and survival.
But restriction is placed on man regarding the seventh day not to use it as he chooses, because it belongs to the Creator Himself. This being the case, the Creator, thus invested the seventh day of the week with special blessings and sanctification (holiness).
“And Elohim blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which He had made”(Gen.2:3).
This is the first time (in record) in which the Creator invoked blessing on space and time. For this reason, the seventh day commands a higher level of spiritual worth.
There is an imposition of order from the Creator on what we shouldn’t do on the Sabbath day. There is also an appeal from the Creator to us his children regarding how we should celebrate that day – the Sabbath!
For a Jew, the Shabbat is not just a day of rest. It is a day of pleasure. Everything we do this day is expected to bring pleasure to us. This custom is founded in the Scriptures. In Isaiah 58:13, He says ‘…and call the Sabbath ‘a delight’ (a pleasure).
That is, we should “celebrate” that day, following certain procedures. Some of the procedures recommended to make the Shabbat delightful are listed in some Jewish books and Sidurim (prayer books).
THE JEWS, JUDAISM AND THE SABBATH
Concerning the Sabbath and the Jews, Chambers Encyclopedia wrote:
“The word Sabbath is of the Hebrew Origin. It means a day of the week set aside for rest from work. According to Jewish myth of creation, G-d started creating on the first day of the week and completed creation on the seventh day. Because G-d rested on the seventh day, mankind is obligated to rest on Saturday as a day of Sabbath or a day of rest. The day henceforth became known as a day of observance by the Jews and other peoples who have adopted Saturday as a religious day of worship and rest from work. This was enjoined in the Ten Commandments”.
(Chambers Encyclopedia, 1966:123).
This observation of the Sabbath by the Jews is an injunction enjoined in the Decalogue and in the Deuteronomic Legislation:
“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day, no one is to do any work… because in six days I, Yahweh made the heavens, and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Ex. 20:8-11), see also (Deut. 5:12).
A SPECIAL DAY
The Sabbath day is a very special day to the Almighty our Creator. It was so special that a blessing was pronounced on it, and it was set apart from the other days of the week.
This one day became so much important to Him; such that it should be just as much important to His children and those who love Him.
Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin in his Book “TO BE A JEW” noted: “There is no other commandment or ritual observance in all of Judaism for which you can find such expressions of affection and devotion as for the Sabbath”. It is the only observance which has become personified in the religious poetry of the prayers. It is affectionately referred to as the Sabbath Pride.
Just as a bride is traditionally radiant and beautiful, a poetic symbol of charm and purity, an object of love and affection, so is the Sabbath to a Jew. It is also called the Sabbath Queen, Shabbat Hamalkah, for queens, too, in the imagination of poets and mystic, are symbols of majesty, beauty and grace and so is the Sabbath to the Jews.
These poetic descriptions of the Sabbath have always retained their full flavor for the Sabbath observing Jew, (To be a Jew, Rabbi Halevy Donin, Basic Books, Inc. Publishers – New York, 1972: Page 61-62).
For those observing Sabbath in our society and others looking at it from the outside, Sabbath observance usually seems to be burdensome and restrictive. No, the Sabbath is not an austere day or boredom, lacking joy and excitement. On the contrary; the Sabbath is a day of re-vitalization!
- A day the Jews and all the true worshippers experience a glorious release from weekday concerns and routine pressures.
- It is a day of indescribable joy, peaceful tranquility and spiritual upliftment
- It is a day of secular recreation. It is a day to cherish freedom, to celebrate freedom.
- It is a day of renewing our covenant with our Creator, as we weekly reconvene at His palace (being His loyal royals) in His Royal Kingdom.
And this translates to a renewed enlightment of the spirit, enthusiasm and strength for the accomplishment of His purpose for our lives.
- It is a day that emphasizes the freedom of the human soul, the freedom of mind and body”. Publishers – New York, 1972: Page 61-62.
MAN NEEDS A BREAK
The spirit of the Sabbath is what is needed most by the contemporary man in such a competitive, tension- packed, hurried and frenzied life of this society of ours.
Before man was created, the Almighty our Creator knew that man needs a break – a seasonal break! Thus, He drafted it into His program in His scheme of things for the welfare of His creatures. He saw that man needs a seasonal rest and repose.
He knows the tendency of man to forget. He knows that man too often gets deeply absorbed in the things of this world hence the tendency to forget his
Purpose here on earth. Entertainment, material pursuit and sinful pleasure largely occupy man’s attention and interests, causing him to loose sight of the spiritual values and the Almighty’s program for his eternity.
The Sabbath provides man the opportunity to lift up his head to reflect and refocus on the purpose of life, and once again appreciate spiritual values as he communicates with his Maker by studying the Torah.
Incidentally, this special program was given to Israel for possession, as a precious gift by the Creator of the whole universe.
A Midrash portrays the Almighty as saying:”A precious Jewel have I in my possession, which I wish to give to Israel, and Sabbath is its name”.
“To describe the feeling that overcomes one on the Sabbath is like trying to describe a beautiful sunset to a blind man, “wrote Rabbi Halevy Donin. “ However rich in words one may be, the sense of rapture that even a simple person with sight senses at the sight of such beauty can never be totally conveyed even by a master poet. Looking in from outside at those who observe the Sabbath might be compared to a deaf man coming upon a scene where people are dancing to music being played by an Orchestra hidden from sight. Not hearing the music, the deaf man might as well mistake the dancers for a group of people who have gone mad. Of course, he does not hear the music, and so the movement of the body which the music inspires is unappreciated and leaves him cold.
And so might Sabbath with its restrictions leaves an observer- unless he has had an opportunity to become part of the experience. Only then may it dawn upon him that what he may have thought of as burdensome and inconvenient is really deliciously and eagerly awaited. “Rabbi Donin Halevy, New York: Basic Books inc., Publishers, TO BE A JEW, Page 61-62: 1972).
It is not without reason that the sages deduced from the opening word of the Ex. 20:8,
Remember” ,that rather than calling each day of the week by its own independent name, we should refer to each day by its number in the week before Sabbath- I.e., Sunday is the first day in (the week before) Sabbath, Monday the second day, and so on- so that the very names of the days remind us of the Sabbath (Mekh.),(Halakhah L’maasheh,- Meeting Shabbath20:1).
By calling the days by their number (before the Sabbath) we impress a vivid picture, a picture igniting an exciting impression of “a deliciously desirable and eagerly awaited occasion”.
As soon as the Sabbath arrives at the end of the week, the Jews all over the world echo a shout of joy as they sing the song:
“Come my beloved to welcome the bride, the presence of the Shabbat we receive!”
L’kha dodi likrat kahla; p’ney Shabbath nika bla” (refrain)
ON THE SEVENTH DAY HE CREATED REST…
It is obvious that the entire material universe was created in six days, but that was not all. The spiritual essence was created on the seventh day!
The Creator “RESTED” on the seventh day. He also created tranquility, serenity, Order and Shalom (PEACE) on the seventh day to crown His creation. It is therefore no surprise why the Jewish sages believed that the Shabbath was first in intension but last in creation.
This is why the Sabbath is the crown of all the creation. The Sabbath- the seventh day of the week is unique! It is different from other days of the week. The Scripture says “And Elohim blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He has rested from all His work…”
We need to understand that these two words “blessed” and “sanctified” were translated from these Hebrew words “Barak” (bless) and “qadash” (sanctify). Hebrew, being the original language in which the Bible was originally written, remains the reliable source through which one can have a clearer understanding of the Scriptures in our time.
Thus, it is evident that these two Hebrew words hold the vital key to understand how the Creator views the Sabbath.
Inthe Hebrews Chaldea Dictionary of strong’s Exhaustive Dictionary; the word “Barak” means to kneel, praise or salute”.
The major function of this word is to confer abundant and effective life (longevity). To bless as it was Gen. 2:2-3, means to imbue with power for success, prosperity, longevity etc.
It therefore became apparent that the seventh day, having received special blessing from the Creator must invariably be of a special meaning to Him. More so, as He gave it a special blessing which was not given or pronounced on other days of the week. He went further to set it apart from other days.
This brings us to the next key word ”qadash” .The word “sanctify” was translated from the Hebrew word “qadsh” which means, ”to be hallowed, holy, consecrate, prepare or dedicate” . It is also a denominative verb. The verb qadash connotes the state of that which belongs to the sphere of the sacred. Thus, it is distinct from the common, profane or ordinary. You now understand that from creation, the Almighty Creator who made us intended from the beginning that all mankind should know how important and special the seventh day of the week is to Him. Hence, they should observe it a holy day.
He intended it to be a universal day of rest and commemoration of the creation. This is why He created that day as special mo’ed (season) holiday or holyday. In his article, “The meaning of Sabbath to a modern man,” chidiebere Aralu wrote, “However, to observe the seventh day does not mean merely to obey or conform to the strictness of a divine command. To observe is to celebrate the creation of the world and to create the seventh day over and over again, a day of rest, a day of freedom.
Is the Sabbath, then, is first of all a dramatic gesture of the community, the immemorial collective gesture of stopping work and celebrating. All nations, celebrate the day of their coming into being with a work stoppage and ceremonies.
“The Jews who believe that Yahweh created the universe celebrate its coming into being and give thanks to its Maker once a week.” (Mitziyon Magazine, Vol.4 No 4, Page)
“REMEMBER” AND “KEEP”
Let us consider these two key words by the Creator stated in the Sabbath Law in (Ex.20) and (Deut.5). The two words “Remember” and “keep” translated from Hebrew root words “Zachor “ and “Shamor” have different messages to convey. According to a Midyash recalled in the Friday- night hymn “L’khah Dodi,” The Creator at Sanai uttered two distinct words (“Remember” and “keep “) at the same time. “Remember” is seen as a positive command to do things that make the Shabbath special. “Keep” is a negative command to refrain from work and other activities that mark Shabbath. Modzhitz commenting on this, spoke of two modes of Shabbath observance: BEING AND DOING. The first is passive (not working, not making physical changes in the world). The second is active (praying, studying, and spending time with the family).
“One of the sages strove each of the week to fulfill the command to remember the Sabbath ;whenever he would find a particular time, object or special food, he would put it aside for Sabbath *BT Betz. Iba).
Those whose circumstance make it impossible to keep Sabbath as they would, should at least find ways to remind themselves that it is the Sabbath …”(Extract,Aytz HayIm, pages 445, comm.. the Fourth Commandment).
It is so comforting and so exciting to know that after toiling for six days, one is getting g ready to be reinvigorated, replenished and re-energized with the Shabbat rest. One can hardly describe the tremendous measure of sensational feelings and peaceful tranquility that begin to engulf the environment and every Jewish home as the Friday sun begins to recoil into its shell before the Sabbath is ushered in on the seventh day of the week.
Yet, more important than everything is the way, or how we prepare to welcome this day- the Sabbath .Every necessary preparation needs to be made in advance by every household or individual observing the Sabbath, before the Sabbath arrives, in order to enjoy full blessings, and the joy of the Sabbath. When the Sabbath is not properly ushered in, it is as good as one did not observe the rest of the day. It is the preparations made to welcome a distinguished guest and how he is welcomed that will give him an idea of how he is received in a home.
Likewise, an adequate preparation for the Sabbath and a proper ushering in procedure will decide our full enjoyment of this beloved guest.
Following is an extract from Book, “HOW TO BE A JEW’ on how to prepare for the Sabbath:
PREPARING FOR THE SABBATH
“To properly honor the Sabbath and capture its beauty and spiritual delight, it is necessary to prepare for its coming.
The preparations in a household should be no less elegant than the preparations the same family might make to receive a distinguished and beloved guest.
What might a family do if a very honored guest was coming for dinner?
- A man would plan on getting home from work in plenty of time to shave, bathe, and get dressed.
- A mother would see to it that she and her children were washed and dressed in clean, fresh clothes.
- The dining table would be set in advance as on a special festive occasion: one’s best dishes and tableware would be used.
- Dinner would not only be prepared in advance, the menu would be a little more elaborate than that serve at a daily meal.
- In a poor home, meat and fish would be reserved for Sabbath meals.
But even where meat or fish is on family’s daily menu; there are still many distinctions that a hostess make when serving a special festive meal, both in types of dishes as well as in the number of courses
- A house would be thoroughly cleaned or at least straightened up
- Every member of the family would take care of the most pressing chores before the guest arrives
- One can also imagine that members of a household might warn friends, neighbors and business associates not to interrupt by telephone calls while their guest is visiting with them. It would not only be rude to the visitor but disturbing to all if there were constant interruptions.
All this is done before the honored guest arrives. This is also what must be done to prepare properly for the Sabbath.
It is unlikely that Sabbath spirit can be captured or made meaningful even where a festive meal is served, if the children are permitted to come to a table in their play jeans; if the adults sit down in their weekday clothes, or if the necessary personal and household preparation in omitted. WE must foster the vision of life as a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the longing for eternal Sabbath all the days of our lives.” [MZ.]