Exploring Shabbat

Abraham Joshuah Heschel "The Sabbath"

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate: the Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the "essence of the Day," which, with man's repentance, atones for the sins of man.

Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time. Most of its observances--the Sabbath, the New Moon, the festivals, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year--depend on a certain hour of the day or season of the year”

(ב) וַיְכַ֤ל אֱלֹהִים֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה׃ (ג) וַיְבָ֤רֶךְ אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־י֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י וַיְקַדֵּ֖שׁ אֹת֑וֹ כִּ֣י ב֤וֹ שָׁבַת֙ מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃ (פ)

(2) On the seventh day God finished the work that God had been doing, and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. (3) And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that God had done.

(כב) וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁ֗י לָֽקְט֥וּ לֶ֙חֶם֙ מִשְׁנֶ֔ה שְׁנֵ֥י הָעֹ֖מֶר לָאֶחָ֑ד וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ כָּל־נְשִׂיאֵ֣י הָֽעֵדָ֔ה וַיַּגִּ֖ידוּ לְמֹשֶֽׁה׃ (כג) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם ה֚וּא אֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֶּ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה שַׁבָּת֧וֹן שַׁבַּת־קֹ֛דֶשׁ לַֽיהוָ֖ה מָחָ֑ר אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאפ֞וּ אֵפ֗וּ וְאֵ֤ת אֲשֶֽׁר־תְּבַשְּׁלוּ֙ בַּשֵּׁ֔לוּ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־הָ֣עֹדֵ֔ף הַנִּ֧יחוּ לָכֶ֛ם לְמִשְׁמֶ֖רֶת עַד־הַבֹּֽקֶר׃

(22) On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food, two omers for each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses, (23) he said to them, “This is what the Eternal meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy sabbath of the Eternal. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.”

(ח) זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ (ט) שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒ (י) וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת ׀ לַיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֣֨ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡֜ה אַתָּ֣ה ׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּ֠בִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤֨ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֜֙ וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔֗ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖֙ אֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽ֔יךָ (יא) כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖נַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑י עַל־כֵּ֗ן בֵּרַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת וַֽיְקַדְּשֵֽׁהוּ׃ (ס)

(8) Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. (9) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Eternal your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. (11) For in six days the Eternal made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day; therefore the Eternal blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

(יב) שָׁמ֣֛וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם֩ הַשַׁבָּ֖֨ת לְקַדְּשׁ֑֜וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוְּךָ֖֣ ׀ יְהוָ֥֣ה אֱלֹהֶֽ֗יךָ (יג) שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּֿל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒׃ (יד) וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜֔י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת ׀ לַיהוָ֖֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹ֣א תַעֲשֶׂ֣ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡ה אַתָּ֣ה וּבִנְךָֽ־וּבִתֶּ֣ךָ וְעַבְדְּךָֽ־וַ֠אֲמָתֶךָ וְשׁוֹרְךָ֨ וַחֲמֹֽרְךָ֜ וְכָל־בְּהֶמְתֶּ֗ךָ וְגֵֽרְךָ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ לְמַ֗עַן יָנ֛וּחַ עַבְדְּךָ֥ וַאֲמָתְךָ֖ כָּמֽ֑וֹךָ׃ (טו) וְזָכַרְתָּ֞֗ כִּ֣י־עֶ֤֥בֶד הָיִ֣֙יתָ֙ ׀ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔֗יִם וַיֹּצִ֨אֲךָ֜֩ יְהוָ֤֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֤֙יךָ֙ מִשָּׁ֔ם֙ בְּיָ֤֥ד חֲזָקָ֖ה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֑֔ה עַל־כֵּ֗ן צִוְּךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַׁבָּֽת׃ (ס)

(12) Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Eternal your God has commanded you. (13) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (14) but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Eternal your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. (15) Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Eternal your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Eternal your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

(טז) וְשָׁמְר֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֑ת לַעֲשׂ֧וֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֛ת לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם׃ (יז) בֵּינִ֗י וּבֵין֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם כִּי־שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ׃ (ס)

(16) The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: (17) 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 He ceased from work and was refreshed.

(יג) אִם־תָּשִׁ֤יב מִשַּׁבָּת֙ רַגְלֶ֔ךָ עֲשׂ֥וֹת חֲפָצֶ֖יךָ בְּי֣וֹם קָדְשִׁ֑י וְקָרָ֨אתָ לַשַּׁבָּ֜ת עֹ֗נֶג לִקְד֤וֹשׁ יְהוָה֙ מְכֻבָּ֔ד וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ֙ מֵעֲשׂ֣וֹת דְּרָכֶ֔יךָ מִמְּצ֥וֹא חֶפְצְךָ֖ וְדַבֵּ֥ר דָּבָֽר׃ (יד) אָ֗ז תִּתְעַנַּג֙ עַל־יְהוָ֔ה וְהִרְכַּבְתִּ֖יךָ עַל־בָּ֣מֳותֵי אָ֑רֶץ וְהַאֲכַלְתִּ֗יךָ נַחֲלַת֙ יַעֲקֹ֣ב אָבִ֔יךָ כִּ֛י פִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה דִּבֵּֽר׃ (ס)

(13) If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, From pursuing your affairs on My holy day; If you call the sabbath “delight,” The Eternal’s holy day “honored”; And if you honor it and go not your ways Nor look to your affairs, nor strike bargains— (14) Then you can seek the favor of the Eternal. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob— For the mouth of the Eternal has spoken.

Ahad Ha'am:

"More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews"

(ב) אֲבוֹת מְלָאכוֹת אַרְבָּעִים חָסֵר אֶחָת. הַזּוֹרֵעַ. וְהַחוֹרֵשׁ. וְהַקּוֹצֵר. וְהַמְעַמֵּר. הַדָּשׁ. וְהַזּוֹרֶה. הַבּוֹרֵר. הַטּוֹחֵן. וְהַמְרַקֵּד. וְהַלָּשׁ. וְהָאוֹפֶה. הַגּוֹזֵז אֶת הַצֶּמֶר. הַמְלַבְּנוֹ. וְהַמְנַפְּצוֹ. וְהַצּוֹבְעוֹ. וְהַטּוֹוֶה. וְהַמֵּסֵךְ. וְהָעוֹשֶׂה שְׁנֵי בָתֵּי נִירִין. וְהָאוֹרֵג שְׁנֵי חוּטִין. וְהַפּוֹצֵעַ שְׁנֵי חוּטִין. הַקּוֹשֵׁר. וְהַמַּתִּיר. וְהַתּוֹפֵר שְׁתֵּי תְפִירוֹת. הַקּוֹרֵעַ עַל מְנָת לִתְפֹּר שְׁתֵּי תְפִירוֹת. הַצָּד צְבִי. הַשּׁוֹחֲטוֹ. וְהַמַּפְשִׁיטוֹ. הַמּוֹלְחוֹ, וְהַמְעַבֵּד אֶת עוֹרוֹ. וְהַמּוֹחֲקוֹ. וְהַמְחַתְּכוֹ. הַכּוֹתֵב שְׁתֵּי אוֹתִיּוֹת. וְהַמּוֹחֵק עַל מְנָת לִכְתֹּב שְׁתֵּי אוֹתִיּוֹת. הַבּוֹנֶה. וְהַסּוֹתֵר. הַמְכַבֶּה. וְהַמַּבְעִיר. הַמַּכֶּה בַפַּטִּישׁ. הַמּוֹצִיא מֵרְשׁוּת לִרְשׁוּת. הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ אֲבוֹת מְלָאכוֹת אַרְבָּעִים חָסֵר אֶחָת:

(2) The [number of] principal Melakhot is forty minus one. [The forbidden Melakhot are]: Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, whitening it, combing it, dyeing it, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying [a knot], untying [a knot], sewing two stitches, tearing for the purpose of sewing two stitches, hunting a deer, slaughtering it, skinning it, salting it, curing its hide, scraping it, cutting it, writing two letters, erasing for the purpose of writing two letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a flame, lighting a flame, striking with a hammer, carrying from one domain to another. These are the principal Melakhot - [they number] forty minus one.

The laws of Shabbat are set aside where there is danger to life, as is the case with the mitzvot. Therefore, a sick person who is in danger may have all his needs taken care of on Shabbat (even when doing so violates the laws of Shabbat), if it is so ordered by a doctor. If there is some question as to the seriousness of the illness (as in the case where one doctor says there is danger and another says there is not), then Shabbat is set aside on the principle that when there is any doubt about danger to life, we set aside Shabbat in order to save a life.

(Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 11:5)

(ח) דָּבָר אַחֵר, לָמָּה בֵּרְכוֹ, רַבִּי בֶּרֶכְיָה וְרַבִּי דוֹסְתָּאי וְרַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן. רַבֶּרֶכְיָה וְרַבִּי דוֹסְתָּאי אוֹמְרִים שֶׁאֵין לוֹ בֶּן זוּג, חַד בְּשַׁבַּתָּא, תְּרֵי, תְּלָתָא, אַרְבַּעְתָּא, חַמְשָׁא, עֲרוּבְתָּא, שַׁבַּתָּא לֵית לָהּ בֶּן זוּג. רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן אָמַר שֶׁאֵינוֹ נִדְחֶה, יוֹם טוֹב נִדְחֶה, יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים נִדְחֶה, שַׁבָּת אֵינָהּ נִדְחֵית. תָּנֵי רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאי, אָמְרָה שַׁבָּת לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם לְכֻלָּן יֵשׁ בֶּן זוּג, וְלִי אֵין בֶּן זוּג. אָמַר לָהּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כְּנֶסֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל הִיא בֶּן זוּגֵךְ. וְכֵיוָן שֶׁעָמְדוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי אָמַר לָהֶם הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא זִכְרוּ הַדָּבָר שֶׁאָמַרְתִּי לְשַׁבָּת, כְּנֶסֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל הִיא בֶּן זוּגֵךְ, הַיְנוּ דִּבּוּר (שמות כ, ח): זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְשׁוֹ.

(8) Why did God bless Shabbat? Rabbi Berekiah says: "Because it has no partner. The first day of the week has the second, the third has the fourth, the fifth has the sixth, but Shabbat has no partner. Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman said: Because it cannot be postponed: a festival can be postponed, as well as the Day of Atonement [because these are days which a beit din must declare to be a new moon]. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: Shabbat pleased with the Holy One, Blessed be God saying: "Everyone else has a partner, but I have nothing!" God answered saying: "The community of Israel will be your partner." God continued: "And when thy stood before Sinai, God said to the Israelites: "Remember what I said to Shabbat, that the community of Israel is your partner, [in the words of scripture] "Remember Shabbat and keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8)...

A great pianist was once asked by an ardent admirer: “How do you handle the notes as well as you do?” The artist answered: “The notes I handle no better than many pianists, but the pauses between the notes, ah, that is where the art resides.”

In great living, as in great music, the art may be in the pauses. Surely one of the enduring contributions that Judaism made to the art of living was Shabbat, “the pause between the notes.” And it is to Shabbat that we must look if we are to restore to our lives the sense of serenity and sanctity that Shabbat offers in such joyous abundance.

(Likrat Shabbat) Worship, Study, and Song For Sabbath and Festival Evenings 2004

Six days a week we humans use time. We value it as a means to an end. Time “well spent” for us is time that helps us acquire something.

Yet to have more does not mean to be more. Indeed, there is a realm of time where the goal is not to have, but to be; not to own, but to give; not to control but to share; not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things, becomes our sole concern.

The seventh day rights our balance and restores our perspec­tive. It is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date, but an atmosphere.

The seventh day, we celebrate time rather than space. Six days we live under the tyranny of the things of space; on the sev­enth day 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.

(Adapted from Abraham Joshua Heschel)

How, above all, do we show our dominion over the earth? In that we can fashion all things in our environment to our own purpose—the earth for our habitation and source of sustenance; plant and animal for food and clothing. We can transform everything into an instrument of human service. We are allowed to rule over the world for six days with God’s will. On the seventh day, however, we are forbidden by the divine behest to fashion any­thing for our purpose. In this way we acknowledge that we have no rights of ownership or authority over the world. Nothing may be dealt with as we please, for everything belongs to God, the Creator, who has set human beings into the world to rule it according to the divine word. On each Sabbath day, the world, so to speak, is re­stored to God, and thus we proclaim, both to ourselves and to our surroundings, that we enjoy only a borrowed authority.

(Adapted from Samson Raphael Hirsch).