V’Shamru: The Self-Care Prayer

“V’shamru” “on one foot”:

”V’Shamru” is a prayer which comes from the Biblical Book of Exodus. We recite it in the Friday evening service before the Amidah, as well as in the Saturday morning service before Kiddush at the end.

Why Do We Need Self-Care At All?

(יד) הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:

(14) He [Rabbi Hillel] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am [only] for my own self, what am I? And if not now, when?

Context: This is from Pirkei Avot, a part of the Mishnah which contains ethical wisdom of the rabbis who lived from 300 BCE to 200 CE. This saying is from Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the year 1 (both BCE and CE).

This is like what they say on airplanes - put on your own mask before assisting others. What does Hillel’s saying have to do with the importance of self-care?

Why Do We Have Shabbat?

(א) וַיְכֻלּ֛וּ הַשָּׁמַ֥יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ וְכָל־צְבָאָֽם׃ (ב) וַיְכַ֤ל אֱלֹקִים֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה׃ (ג) וַיְבָ֤רֶךְ אֱלֹקִים֙ אֶת־י֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י וַיְקַדֵּ֖שׁ אֹת֑וֹ כִּ֣י ב֤וֹ שָׁבַת֙ מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֥א אֱלֹקִ֖ים לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃

(1) The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. (2) On the seventh day G-d finished the work that G-d did, and G-d ceased on the seventh day from all the work that G-d had done. (3) And G-d blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it G-d ceased from all the work of creation that G-d had done.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Genesis, at the end of the first of 2 accounts of Creation. It is in Chapter 2 for reasons known only to Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who divided up the chapters in 1227 CE. In the traditional Jewish division of aliyot, this selection is included with the other 6 “days”.

Speaking of days, there are those who hold that before the Flood time was measured differently, so a “day” could be millions of years. This helps people reconcile the story of Creation in the Bible with the story of Creation in science, since the order is basically the same.

Also noteworthy is that this set of verses, called “Vayechulu” after the first word, is in the Friday evening Amidah, as well as in the “Me-ein Sheva”, which is a mini-repetition instituted so that those who came late to services could finish their Amidah and not have to walk back home alone in the dark, and it is the first part of the Friday night Kiddush when recited at home.

Note that in this text it doesn’t actually say the word “Shabbat” - it talks about “the seventh day”, and it uses the root “Sh.b.t” multiple times to mean “cease”.

This is the first thing declared “holy” in the Torah. Why might “the time when G-d ceased from work” be considered holy?

What did G-d say about Shabbat at Mt. Sinai?

(ח) זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ (ט) שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒ (י) וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת ׀ לַה' אֱלֹקֶ֑֗יךָ לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֣֨ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡֜ה אַתָּ֣ה ׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּ֠בִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤֨ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֜֙ וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔֗ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖֙ אֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽ֔יךָ (יא) כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה ה' אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖נַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑י עַל־כֵּ֗ן בֵּרַ֧ךְ ה' 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 L-rd your G-d: 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 L-rd made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the L-rd blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Exodus, where it tells about what happened at Mt. Sinai. It is also included in the Shabbat morning Kiddush, after V’shamru and before the blessing.

According to this text, why should we keep Shabbat?

(יב) שָׁמ֣֛וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם֩ הַשַׁבָּ֖֨ת לְקַדְּשׁ֑֜וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוְּךָ֖֣ ׀ ה' אֱלֹקֶֽ֗יךָ (יג) שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּֿל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒׃ (יד) וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜֔י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת ׀ לַה' אֱלֹקֶ֑֗יךָ 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 ה' אֱלֹקֶ֤֙יךָ֙ מִשָּׁ֔ם֙ בְּיָ֤֥ד חֲזָקָ֖ה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֑֔ה עַל־כֵּ֗ן צִוְּךָ֙ ה' אֱלֹקֶ֔יךָ לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַׁבָּֽת׃ (ס)

12 Guard the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the L-rd your G-d commanded you. 13 Six days shall you labor and do all your work; 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath for the L-rd your G-d; do not do any manner of work on it, not you, your son, your daughter, your male or female servant, your ox, your donkey, any of your animals nor the stranger within your gates; so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. 15 And so that you will be mindful that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the L-rd your G-d took you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the L-rd your G-d commanded you to make the sabbath day.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy, where Moses recaps what happened at Mt. Sinai.

Note that the first word is different - in Exodus, it is “Zachor”, “Remember”. In Deuteronomy, it is “Shamor”, “Guard”. Since G-d presumably only said one word, the rabbis explained that that “Zachor v’Shamor b’dibur echad” - “Remember and Guard were in one utterance (Mechilta 20:8:1). When Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz wrote Lecha Dodi in 1579, he switched the order of that line to preserve the acrostic of his name.

The two versions of the Fourth Commandment give two different reasons for why we should keep Shabbat. These are combined in the Friday night Kiddush.

According to this text, why should we keep Shabbat?

What’s the Connection Between Shabbat and Self-Care?

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

(16) The Israelite people shall keep (or guard) the Sabbath, observing (literally: making) the sabbath throughout the generations 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 LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day G-d ceased from work and was refreshed.

Context: The prayer V’shamru comes from the Biblical Book of Exodus, right after a whole set of instructions about the work to be done for making the Mishkan / Tabernacle. It is in the Friday evening service, right before the pre-Amidah Chatzi Kaddish, and it is the first part of the Shabbat morning Kiddush (Kiddush Rabba). There are some who have noted that “B’nai Yisrael et haShabbat” forms an acrostic for “bi’ah”, meaning “intimate relations” — this is relevant here, because using Shabbat as an opportunity to connect with others in a variety of ways can be important for taking care of yourself.

Guard - Why is it important to guard Shabbat? What about guarding your time for self-care?

Making - Why do you have to “make” Shabbat? Why do you have to make time for self-care?

The generations - How do those older than us model Shabbat, and how do we model it for those younger than us? What about when it comes to making time for self-care?

Ceased from work - How does ceasing from work impact your Shabbat experience? How does it impact your time for self-care?

Refreshed - How does Shabbat make you refreshed? How does taking the time for self-care make you refreshed?

The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

...The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God. All week we think: The spirit is too far away, and we succumb to spiritual absenteeism, or at best we pray: Send us a little of Thy spirit. On the Sabbath the spirit stands and pleads: Accept all excellence from me...

To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily tuned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature – is there any institution that holds out a great hope for man's progress than the Sabbath?

[Heschel, A.J. The Sabbath. Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Canada Ltd., 1979, pp.18, 28.]

Context: This is from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s slim book The Sabbath. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a 20th century teacher - he managed to escape the Nazis and was a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He also marched with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, where he said, “I felt like my legs were praying”.

Based on this selection from The Sabbath, what is the connection between Shabbat and self-care?

"Powering Down" by Jennifer Bleyer, Tablet Magazine

Shabbat is like exercising. You avoid it. You groan about it. You think of a million other things you would rather do. Finally, you drag yourself to do it and you feel amazing. You vow that you will keep doing it over and over again and become a whole new super healthy glowing you. You approach Oprah-ish levels of inner calm and rejuvenation. And you may just feel so present that you forget about your plugged-in life altogether. It's a religious ritual that even an atheist can love.


Context: This is from an article in Tablet Magazine about how unplugging for 25 hours on Shabbat can make your life better, regardless of your other Jewish practices.

Based on this article, what’s the connection between Shabbat and self-care?

"Shabbat and Zionism," Achad Ha'am 1898 [pre-statehood of Israel]

There is no need to be overly concerned with mitzvot (commandments) in order to know the value of Shabbat. Whoever feels in their heart a true connection with the life of the [Jewish] Nation in all generations, cannot in any way imagine a reality for the people of Israel without Shabbat. One could say, without any exaggeration, that more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel, and if it hadn't returned to them their souls and renewed the lives of their spirit each week, all the sufferings of the "days of creation" would drag us farther and farther downward, until they would eventually descend to the bottom floor of materialism, and ethical and intellectual baseness.

Context: “Achad Ha’am” is the pen name of Asher Ginsberg. He was active in the Zionist movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Eastern Europe and the Land of Israel. Ginsberg was a strong proponent of Cultural Zionism and took the name “Achad Ha’am”, meaning “One of the people” for his writings. The text in bold is his most famous phrase that he wrote, and this is the context for it. It plays off the beginning words of “V’Shamru” - “The People of Israel shall keep Shabbat”.

Do you agree with the statement “more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel”? What are its ramifications for self-care?

Musical Versions

Context: This setting of V’shamru was written (and performed by) Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in the 1980s (possibly 1980, possibly 1982, according to Neshama Carlebach). Carlebach wrote many tunes for prayers (and other songs), including those which are done on Friday night in the pre-Barchu Kabbalat Shabbat service. According to Cantor Neil Schwartz, when this tune is done slowly it can put people in the mood for a peaceful Shabbat. (Start the video at 0:58)

Does the tune seem to fit the mood of the words?

Context: This setting of V’shamru was written by Rabbi Moshe Rothblum in 1970. He wrote it for a Hebrew play at Camp Ramah and it was brought back into the synagogues by the campers.

Does the tune seem to fit the mood of the words?

Context: This setting of V’shamru was written by Debbie Friedman in 1976. Debbie Friedman wrote many tunes for prayers (and other songs), including one for the Havdalah blessings (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMW832l0ZLo).

Does the tune seem to fit the mood of the words?

With appreciation to Rabbi Debra Rappaport, whose source sheet “Shabbat Vayinafash” provided the frame for this sheet.