Allen S. Maller
Allen S. Maller

Shabbat’s holiness is for everybody and soul

Most working people look forward to summer vacations and the opportunity for a change of pace as well as a relief from our pressures and tensions. Even long weekends can offer an opportunity to relax and enjoy family time together without the usual interruptions and competing demands on our time and energy.

God must have foreseen that life at the beginning of the 21st century would be much more pressured, hurried, frantic, and crowded than anyone could have imagined even two or three generations ago.

The Talmudic rabbis have a saying that God always sends the cure before the disease arrives so that we humans, who have great difficulty discerning the future, would be able to overcome the daily 21st century tensions one way or another.

Thus, thirty-two centuries ago on Mount Sinai, God told the Jewish People they should work only for 6 days and on every seventh day, observe a Sabbath. Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) is one of the best known and least understood of all Jewish observances.

People who do not observe Shabbat think of it as a day filled with many restrictions, or as a day of prayer like a Christian Sabbath.

Shabbat is not specifically a day of prayer although Jews do pray on Shabbat. Prayer is not what distinguishes Shabbat from the rest of the week. OrthodoxJews pray every day.

To say that Shabbat is a day of prayer is no more accurate than saying Shabbat is a day of feasting. We do eat every day, but on Shabbat, we eat more festively, and in a more leisurely fashion. The same can be said of prayer on Shabbat.

For those who do not observe Shabbat it seems like a day filled with many restrictions, But to those who do observe Shabbat, it is a precious gift from God, a day of great joy looked forward to throughout the week.

It is a time when we seek to set aside all of our weekday concerns and prepare ourselves for living, at least for a few hours; a slower, deeper, profounder and holier life.

Shabbat is primarily a day of relaxation, appreciation and spiritual enrichment. The word “Shabbat” comes from a Hebrew verb root, meaning to pause, to cease or end, or to just let go. So stop striving for a day and start thriving for a life time. Often less is more.

Stop for a few moments and think about the ordinary things that you do every week that you would love to escape from or omit from your daily life like; traffic, waiting on hold, paying bills, answering the phone, etc. Now write down some things you would like to do but that you do not have time to do during your average working week.

If you observed Shabbat as Orthodox Jews still do, most of the daily things you want to escape from you would not be doing one day a week. Orthodox Jews do not cook, clean, drive, use phones, money, or the internet, run errands, etc. They do go on long walks, read, study Torah and eat their meals with friends and family.

I am not an Orthodox Jew. I am a Reform Rabbi. Reform Judaism seeks to observe the Judaism in a way that fits within modern life. Celebrating Shabbat with friends and family is an important part of Shabbat. In previous centuries, when extended families lived in walking distance, this was easy. Today, people live miles apart. Reform Rabbis would say it is better to drive to a Shabbat service or family dinner than to stay home.

In Biblical days, when 90% of Jews were farmers, planting or pruning was work. Today, when 90% of Jews work indoors, a Shabbat afternoon spent gardening is not work.

The following principles are taken from the current Reform Judaism guidelines:

Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. It is the only ritual observance instituted in the Ten Commandments.

Friday evening at sundown, we light two candles to honor Shabbat – Shabbat begins and ends with the lighting of candles. But the candles we light each time are very different, as is the blessing we say.

Shabbat is inaugurated with two separate individual candles. The blessing we say concludes: to kindle the light (singular) of Shabbat.

The Havdalah ceremony which marks the end of Shabbat, uses only one candle which is braided with many intertwined candles, and the blessing concludes: creator of the lights (plural) of fire.

The Shabbat spirit must enlighten us to value co-operation and community as much as individual success and fulfillment.

In modern America, we forget what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times. A weekly day of rest has no parallel in any other ancient civilization. In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or laboring classes.

The Greeks and Romans thought Jews were lazy because Jews insisted on having a “holiday” every seventh day.

It is a mitzvah to take delight in Shabbat observance, as Isaiah said, “You shall call Shabbat a delight”. Delight implies celebration and relaxation, sharing time with loved ones, enjoying the beauty of nature, eating a leisurely meal made special with conviviality and song, visiting with friends and relatives, taking a leisurely stroll, reading, and listening to music.

Most Jews know that sexual activities between a husband and wife are a Mitsvah- a Jewish responsibility. Many Jews know that lovemaking on Shabbat is a double Mitsvah. Some Jews know that the Kabbalah (the Jewish mystical tradition) teaches that the Shekeenah (the feminine presence of God) rests on a Jewish man when he makes love to his Jewish wife on Shabbat.

Actually the Shekeenah can rest on a man whenever he makes love to his wife with a sense of reverence, tenderness, adoration and love. Shabbat adds holiness and chosen-ness to their feelings. The key attitude for each husband is the feeling that his wife is God’s gift, the source of his blessings, and a most wonderful manifestation of God’s holy presence in his life.

Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. It is the only ritual observance instituted in the Ten Commandments.

Friday evening at sundown, Jews light two candles to honor Shabbat – Shabbat begins and ends with the lighting of candles. But the candles we light each time are very different, as is the blessing we say. Shabbat is inaugurated with two separate individual candles. The blessing we say concludes: to kindle the light (singular) of Shabbat.

The Havdalah ceremony which marks the end of Shabbat, uses only one candle which is braided with many intertwined candles, and the blessing concludes: creator of the lights (plural) of fire. The Shabbat spirit must enlighten us to value co-operation and community as much as individual success and fulfillment.

In modern America, we forget what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times. A weekly day of rest has no parallel in any other ancient civilization. In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or laboring classes.

It is a mitzvah to hallow Shabbat by setting it apart from the other days of the week. … Shabbat must be distinguished from the other days of the week so that those who observe it may be transformed by its holiness. It is a mitzvah to rest, relax and study on Shabbat.

However, Shabbat rest implies much more than refraining from work. The concept of Shabbat includes both physical relaxation and tranquility of mind and spirit.

On Shabbat, one deliberately turns away from weekday pressures and activities. It is a mitzvah to refrain from work on Shabbat…Abstinence from work is a major expression of Shabbat observance; however, it is no simple matter to define work today.

Certain activities that some do to earn a living, others do for relaxation or to express their creativity. Clearly, though, one should avoid one’s normal occupation or profession on Shabbat whenever possible and engage only in those types of activities that enhance the joy, rest, and holiness of the day.

We bring Torah into the world when we seek to sanctify the times and places of our lives through regular home and congregational observance. Shabbat calls us to bring the highest moral values to our daily labor and to culminate the workweek with the spiritual values of holiness, rest, and joy.

In other words, during the week we work and compete for individual accomplishment and success. On Shabbat we relax our efforts to control our world and seek to intertwine ourselves with others and just be together in peace.

With the end of Shabbat (Havdalah) we ready ourselves for the fires of striving, competing and creating. But we need to carry the Shabbat spirit of being intertwined with others into the week to make sure that our individual rivalry is not destructive, and that our efforts to succeed and control are not harmful to others or to ourselves.

The Shabbat spirit must enlighten us to value co-operation and community as much as individual success and fulfillment.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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