Introduction to Shabbat
A Ceaseless Race
Life is like a never-ending race; we spend our entire time consumed in toiling towards achieving material success in order to provide our families, and ourselves, with the type of life we deserve. Ironically, the fast pace in which we lead our lives does not allow us to spend quality time with our family and contemplate the nature of our existence on earth; perhaps the meaning of our existence goes beyond making a living and achieving physical comfort? How can we break out of this cycle of daily grind and set time for the truly important things in life? Jews have had the answer since the beginning of time: Shabbat.
A Day of Rest and Holiness
The meaning of Shabbos, in addition to resting and ceasing from certain types of actions such as lighting fire, cooking, driving and more, is our return to and connection with G-d. Shabbat means that we are heeding the needs of our soul, as opposed to the those of our body. Observant Jews strive to make Shabbat the focal point of the entire week, something to give them strength during the week and to look forward to. Since G-d sanctified this day, “And G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because in it he rested from all his work which G-d had created…” (Genesis 1:31-2:3), the Sabbath became more than just a day of rest from working: it became a day of sacrosanctness. Moreover, everything that G-d created during the six days of the week was created in preparation for Shabbat.
Observing the Shabbat
Shabbat was the first day on which G-d ceased from his role as the Creator of the world, and began his role as the one who watches over the world. On this day, man was appointed the guardian of the Garden of Eden. From that moment on Shabbos became a testimony of G-ds supreme rein over earth and solidified the Jews’ role in this world by observing it the way G-d requested in the holy Torah. How did Shabbos become the elevated day that it is? The Torah instructs us that we may work for six days, but “the seventh day is Sabbat to the Lord, [our] G-d; [we] shall perform no labor” (Exodus;19:10). During the six days man rules the earth, so to speak: he turns soil into a source of livelihood; turns fauna and flora into sources of food and clothing; turns natural resources into objects and jewelry, etc. But on the seventh day G-d forbade most things, and we are forced to remember that He is responsible for our every sustenance. The Torah forbids us from performing 39 types of creative activities that were initially used to build the mishkan, or tabernacle, which was the temporary and portable version of the Holy Temple in the desert. By refraining from the 39 activities we essentially proclaim G-d as the true governor of the world, rather than man.
The True Source of Livelihood
“Shabbos is the source of all blessings,” we are told. The Torah tells us that by not earning a livelihood on Shabbos, an unthinkable notion to some, we are actually doing a lot more to guarantee a continual sustenance during the week. By ceasing from the 39 activities on Shabbat we are reaffirming our bond and relationship with G-d and showing Him that we trust Him to provide us with all that we need, in spite of not making a living for more than fourteen percent of our entire lives. In turn, G-d does just that.
Friday Night- a Joyous Time
While Shabbos is a deep spiritual concept, we must remember that we are physical creatures, and that in order to obtain the desired connection with G-d on Shabbat we need to work firstly on a physical level: we cease from physical activity in order to enjoy twenty-four hours of a spiritual atmosphere that does not, cannot, exist during the six days of the week. We want to make sure that Shabbat is as enjoyable a time as it can be, which makes Fridays a very stressful day for Jews. As if cleaning the house to an immaculate degree is not enough, there are also food preparations. Come Friday night, however, the tension and stress that we experienced during the day ebb, giving way Shabbos, also known as Shabbat Queen.
The woman of the household welcomes Shabbat by lighting candles, which is one of the most important commandments pertinent to Shabbat. Except for the light they exude, the candles endow Shabbat with a holy and sanguine feel. Upon returning from prayer service, the man, or if he is absent, the woman of the household, performs the Kiddush ceremony. During Kiddush we recite a blessing over wine and challah bread, welcome the Shabbat by resiting certain passages and then start the meal. Shabbat meals often last for hours and are a time of pure joy. Shabbat meal gives Jews time to bond with their families, tell stories, sing for hours, learn together, and more.
To the non-observant, keeping Shabbat seems like a burden.Refraining from driving, turning lights on and off and using the phone is unnecessary at best, or even restricting. However, those who do observe Shabbat properly know that, more than anything, it is a privilege.