Kenneth Cohen

Two Aspects of Shabbat

The Torah speaks of the great benefit connected with Shabbat observance. We are told that it will add years to our lives, and it will be “good” for us.

When approaching the Mitzvot connected with Shabbat, it is helpful to note that there are two major aspects, connected with it. One is what would be called “the spirit” of Shabbat, and the other would be the “thirty nine Melachot.”

The aspect of the spirit of Shabbat comes from a Pasuk in Isaiah 58, that speaks of how we must make this day different from all other days. We must walk and talk differently. We should not conduct business affairs in this day, and we must make this day special, by our actions.

This is kind of a general warning that does not carry with it an enforceable punishment. For example, if two individuals did make a business deal, or they did not insist on having their animals rest, it is a Shabbat violation. A Jewish court would not punish for this.

The second category of Melachot, refers to those thirty-nine activities that were done in the construction of the Mishkan. Violation of any of these Melachot, carries with it, very severe penalties. If one is warned by two witnesses, there is a death penalty by stoning. These include activities related to planting, dyeing, cooking, and the transferring of an object from one domain to another.

The laws related to these Melachot, which demonstrate man’s mastery of the universe, are very detailed and complex.

It is helpful, when approaching Shabbat observance, to be able to categorize the activity we are doing. If it falls under the heading of a Melacha, we must take it very seriously. The other category of “the spirit of Shabbat,” should also be taken seriously. However, activities in this category, are a little more difficult to define. Technically, they are rabbinically forbidden. We are to make every effort to make the Sabbath a holy day. The blessings and benefits come, when we learn to appreciate and cherish, this special gift, known as Shabbat.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at