Shabbat – its true meaning is not what you thought.
Are you stressed, rushed and driven by the pressures and demands of other people and modern society generally? Would you like to take time out but don’t see a way to do it? Shabbat gives you this time of rest from the world.
If you cringe at the thought, wait just a moment. You’ve probably got it wrong. Do you associate observing the Sabbath with a lot of legalistic rules that make the day a chore rather than a blessing? Or do you associate it with anxiety and stress at not doing things ‘right’? Perhaps you’d rather not keep the Sabbath at all than observe it wrongly and draw the judgment of others upon your head. Well, you’re not the only one. The good news is that none of that is what the Sabbath is about at all.
You were not made to serve the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made to serve you. A lot of rules were placed around the Sabbath to try to help people avoid any possibility of sin. However, these thirty nine Talmudic rules have nothing whatsoever to do with the Torah. Most of the things you probably think about the Sabbath are probably wrong. Maybe it’s time to have another look through different eyes.
The Torah gives the Sabbath commandments a lot more simply. It is easy to take the spirit of the Torah’s instructions and adapt them to our modern lives if we take a little while to reflect on them.
First, the Sabbath was created when God rested on it and set it apart as holy after he had completed six days of creation work. So if we follow his example, we will rest on it and set it apart from the rest of the week. In other words, we spend the Sabbath differently from the other six days. Now, if the other six days are rushed and busy, behaving differently on the Sabbath should be an attractive idea. The Sabbath is about being rather than doing. What a welcome relief!
The question you need to ask is how you want to spend it. If you decide you want to shop, work, attend soccer games and generally be on the run the whole day, you have really decided not to keep Shabbat. Some of your activities just may be unavoidable, like working. What is thought of today as work is not what work is in the Talmud. But if you decide you want to rest on the Sabbath and make it different to the rest of the week by making it special and enjoyable, you are on the right track. You don’t have to make it religious to enjoy what the Sabbath has to offer us.
Of course, you can enter it with a special Friday night dinner if you wish, but you don’t have to keep the full Jewish tradition. Perhaps you would like to do this once a month and keep it simple on the other three Sabbaths. It is up to you. If you want you can simply eat pizza and spend time together. It needs to be special for you. The idea is to tune out the world with its many commercial and ugly messages and spend time with yourself, your family, your friends and your God. The world keeps us so distracted we have largely lost the ability to reflect. We have been given this opportunity and often take it for granted.
More than anything, our children need Shabbat. Our families need Shabbat. Texting is replacing conversation, along with computers, facebook, instant messaging. For many people, quality family time is a thing of the past. We are owned by corporations, debts and obligations. We are stressed and we are not considering the effect on the next generation. If you have children, play with them during the Sabbath. Go to the park. Give them your time and attention. That isn’t work, it’s love and it is the only way we can turn around the devastation to families we are seeing in this society. If you do not have children, go and spend time with your family members, relatives or friends. This time does not need to wait for a special holiday or birthday celebration.
Shabbat allows us to give our children, our husband or wife and others the focused attention the rest of the week robs from them. We can use Shabbat to encourage our children and show that we value who they are irrespective of what they do. We can create our own Sabbath traditions with a little creativity.
It is a sad thing that so many of us have gone back into Egypt and enslaved ourselves because we wanted the leeks and the onions. But this world has less to offer us than we may think. We have more to offer the world than the world thinks – but only if we value what we have been given. We were given Shabbat.
Shabbat offers you a gateway to peace and family strength. You do not have to observe the rituals unless you want to and you do not need to be burdened by legalistic restrictions.
Nevertheless, should you wish to enjoy the traditional rituals and perhaps adapt them to your own personal or family circumstances, they offer many blessings to those who partake of them.
The Jewish observance of Shabbat has a beauty that no other form of the Sabbath observance possesses. It reflects a rich cultural history that gives us a sense of identity as a people. This richness and depth is a gift to be prized. We need to see it as a day of grace that blesses us rather than a day of law that burdens us.
The Sabbath is not difficult to observe. Long time observers have learned wisdom over the years and know to be well prepared ahead of Friday so they do not enter the Shabbat rushed and harried. It is a time to be enjoyed. So the first step is to be organized throughout the week.
For beginners, a part of the Sabbath preparation is to ensure that you have everything you need to observe it. You will need long burning candles (usually white), matches, Shabbat candle lighting calendar, a Kiddush cup, wine and Challah bread. Shabbat blessings and songs will also need to be organized ahead of time as well as any traditions you wish to include that are unique to your family.
The candles (usually two, but some people add a candle for each of their children) are lit eighteen minutes before sunset along with a blessing over the candles and a silent prayer. Before Kiddush (kee*ddush – the prayer over the wine), there is the blessing of the children. Not everyone does this, especially if they do not have children, but it is a beautiful tradition in which many parents bless their children to have good health, strength and righteousness. After this, the leader holds a cup of wine or grape juice. Everyone stands as he/she sanctifies the Sabbath by reminding them that God completed his creation work in six days and on the seventh he rested, sanctified it and made it holy. Next the Motzi (prayer over the Challah bread) is broken and eaten followed by the singing of songs. Many people also attend synagogue services and pray the melodic Kabbalah Shabbat prayer. Everyone sings “Shalom Aleichem” which is a song that welcomes the angels that accompany people home from synagogue.
The Sabbath can be a meaningful and thoroughly enjoyable family tradition. Even if you are single, it can enjoyable on how you make of it. This guide is not set in concrete. If you feel you cannot include some of the elements mentioned here, that’s fine. The main thing is that you make a distinction between Shabbat and other days, rest on it and rejoice in it to the glory of God and the benefit of man. As a very wise person said “the week doesn’t carry the Sabbath, the Sabbath carries the week.” If you do this, you and your family will be blessed. You will feel it and those around you will see it.
If you would like to learn the Shabbat prayers, listen to the blessing chanted as in Reform Judaism. We light Shabbat Candles Friday evenings before sundown and always first when on a Jewish Holiday.
Rabbi Andrea Frank will be more than happy to send you Shabbat prayers in English transliteration.
The Blessings of Shabbat
Shabbat was meant to enrich our lives and be a source of rejuvenation! How do you make Shabbat different then other days of the week? What blessings have you experienced by setting that day aside? Please share them with us.