Shalom everyone! Shabbat in purest terms is a day or period of rest. The term is used to describe the annual mo’edim during which YAH commands the Erverh Nation (B’nei Yisrael) to cease from creative work (melachah). Shabbat is also used to describe the sabbatical year (sh’mitah), the seventh year of a seven-year agricultural cycle during which YAH commanded B’nei Yisrael to allow the land in Israel to lie fallow. The weekly Shabbat, however, is the seventh day of the week and the official day of rest for the Erverh Nation (B’nei Yisrael). It is a 25-hour period from Friday sundown to Saturday nightfall, during which B’nei Yisrael are commanded by YAH to refrain from creative work (melachah). It is an eternal ordinance for B’nei Yisrael throughout all our generations wherever we may be.
The Torah gives two purposes for the Shabbat:
- To commemorate YAH‘s Creation of the Universe, on the Seventh Day of which YAH rested from His creative work (melachah)(Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-12);
- To commemorate YAH‘s Redemption of our people from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
We are commanded to remember and keep (observe) the Shabbat in Exodus 20:8. We remember the Shabbat because YAH ceased from His creative work, not that He needed to rest, but as an example to us His people. We observe the Shabbat because we were once slaves in ancient Egypt when our time was subject to cruel taskmasters, the Pharaohs, who forced us to build their cities. Unfortunately, our time being subject to cruel taskmasters is a recurring decimal throughout our history, even to this day. This makes the command to remember and observe the Shabbat of utmost importance to B’nei Yisrael who currently have the liberty to do so.
On Shabbat, B’nei Yisrael are forbidden to kindle a fire in any of our habitations (Exodus 35:1-3). B’nei Yisrael are also commanded to refrain from creative work (melachah) on Shabbat. But what is creative work (melachah)? The Torah implies that melachah is any of the category of activities carried out in the building of the Tent of Meeting or its components including the Ark of the Covenant, Menorah, and altars, the making of the garments for the priests, and the making of the utensils used in the service of the Tent of Meeting. The work done to make these items is creative in nature. We can see the Torah‘s definition of melachah in the Book of Exodus; Immediately after giving the instructions of how to make the Tent of Meeting, the Ark, Menorah and its utensils, YAH reiterates to Moshe that B’nei Yisrael must keep the Shabbat (Exodus 31:12-17). Melachah also extends to any of the work we performed in the building of Pharaoh‘s cities; it is from this harsh work which YAH delivered us so that we would have the liberty to keep His mo’edim including the weekly Shabbat.
In ancient times, there was no real set order of how Shabbat was to be kept except for refraining from melachah. For B’nei Yisrael, Shabbat was a day of rest spent at home with the family. YAH, however, did command that communal offerings be brought to the Tent of Meeting and later Holy Temple, even on the Shabbat. The following were the offerings made on Shabbat:
- Two male yearling lambs
- Two-tenths ephah of fine flour mixed with oil
- Associated libation (drink offering).
In modern times, Shabbat is a day of rest centered around the family, home and house of worship. Friday is the preparation day when cooking, cleaning, washing, bathing, etc. are done. Friday sundown, B’nei Yisrael families usher in the Shabbat with a short prayer service either at home or at the community house of worship. After prayers, families have a festive meal at home, and spend the rest of the evening discussing Torah topics, singing praise and worship songs, socializing with other family and friends, or engaging in other leisurely activities (reading, games etc.). It is our custom to invite guests over to our homes to spend Shabbat.
On Shabbat morning, B’nei Yisrael families typically attend prayer services at the community house of worship. At this service, the Torah portion for the week is read for the entire congregation. After services, congregants may have a light snack at the house of worship before returning home for another festive meal. B’nei Yisrael spend the rest of the day sleeping, studying or discussing Torah, or engaging in leisurely other activities. At the end of Shabbat, B’nei Yisrael have another short prayer service to separate the Shabbat from the new work week.
Shabbat is truly a gift from YAH to His people. It is a weekly mo’ed (appointed time) for rest and reflection that we happily anticipate in the days before its arrival, and sorely miss after we start a new work week.