I am writing this article just before Shabbat, on a Friday morning, as I look forward to celebrating Shabbat. I suspect that the term “Shabbat” is not familiar to some, except you may have heard it in relation to the horrific massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers at Shabbat services on Oct. 27 in Pittsburgh.
I will not talk about that event; it is too hard for me right now. Rather, I would like to talk about Shabbat, tell you a bit about what Shabbat means.
“Shabbat” is the Hebrew word for “Sabbath”; in fact the English word “Sabbath” is derived from the Hebrew “Shabbat.” Some Jews call it “Shabbas,” which is an Ashkenazic (Eastern European) pronunciation. “Shabbat” is how it is pronounced in modern Israel. But what is it and what does it mean to Jews?
As you probably know, the idea of Shabbat comes from the Book of Genesis. God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day, God rested. The number “seven” in Hebrew is closely related linguistically to the word “Shabbat,” so Shabbat means the Seventh Day.
Jews have always celebrated Shabbat on what was considered the seventh day of the week, which in our modern accounting of time, is Saturday. Shabbat is a weekly occurring holy day. And in imitation of God, we are expected to rest on Shabbat.
What does that mean, to “rest?” It means not to work at one’s normal work, including housework, cooking and all the tasks we do every day, along with their attendant worries and concerns. Shabbat is a separate and holy time in which we turn away from the world and are allowed to focus on our spiritual selves and our relationship to God.
That is why we hold religious services each Shabbat. On Shabbat, we have the time to live in depth our spiritual lives, and to leave the concerns of work and everyday survival aside for a short period of time.
Why do we need a Sabbath? I think that many would agree that they need “time off” periodically to relax and enjoy the blessings of friends and family. We need time away from worrying about basic survival and our work lives. We need time to focus on the meaning of our lives and our relationship to God and to the universe.
That is what a Sabbath should do for us ... give us time away from everyday life, so we can explore our deeper, inner selves. For me, and for many others, such a day occurring every seventh day seems to work, to meet our needs, to allow us to be more fully human. I look forward to each Shabbat as a day that I can let go and relax. That gives me the strength to keep going when life gets hard during the week.
The daughter religions that grew out of Judaism—Christianity and Islam—also count a special day each week, every seven days. For Christians, it is Sunday, for Muslims it is Friday. Most Christians celebrate their Sabbath with worship services on Sunday morning. Muslims celebrate their special day of prayer with Jumma services on Friday. So just like Jews, Christians and Muslims take time away from everyday life, each week to immerse themselves in rest, family and spiritual connections.
Jewish observance and celebration of Shabbat differs widely among Jews. Very observant Jews do no work at all, including no cooking, no turning electricity on and off, no lighting of fires to cook, no driving. Many Jews also attend Shabbat services on Friday evening (Shabbat runs from sundown Friday evening through sundown Saturday evening) and on Saturday morning.
On Friday night we welcome the Sabbath and its blessings, and then on Saturday we have a long morning service that includes reading of the weekly Torah portion. After services, many spend time with family and friends, or read or nap. Shabbat ends on Saturday night when three stars can be seen in the sky. At that time we bid farewell to Shabbat with a Havdalah service, knowing Shabbat will come again next week with all its blessings.
What are your individual and family customs for your day of rest? I always plan to have the Sabbath as a “down day.” I go to Shabbat services as much as I can. I do not do normal household chores (except feeding the animals, of course), and instead I try to spend time with friends and/or time outdoors hiking, biking or paddling. Or sometimes I just sit at home and enjoy a quiet day of reading. It is a day that I can spend each week resting my spirit and my body.
No matter when and how you celebrate your Sabbath, I wish you all a good day of rest and relaxation to restore your spirits each week. Shabbat Shalom, Jumma Mubarak, happy Sunday! May we all be blessed in our spiritual lives through the weekly gift of a special time of rest.