“And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all His work which God in creating had made.” (Genesis 2: 2-3)
God spent six days creating the world and rested on the seventh. To remind ourselves of God’s creation of the world, we too rest on the seventh day. This day is known as the Sabbath, or Shabbat.
The commandment to rest on the seventh day first appears in the Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20: 8-11)
The literal laws of Sabbath observing don’t define “work” as one might traditionally explain it. In the framework of Shabbat, there are 39 “actions” that are considered work, and these were the actions performed in the construction of the Tabernacle. This work is creative work, such as lighting a flame. It may seem more restful to drive a car than to walk, but turning on and operating a car is considered “work” within the Shabbat definition. We do not do any sort of work that will make us money, we do not perform any financial transactions, etc.
We also use the resting as a way to reflect and reconnect with God. As it says in Isaiah, “If you restrain your steps because of the Sabbath and refrain from doing your own business on My holy day, if you consider Sabbath a delight and honor God’s holy day by not going about your daily business, conducting your usual affairs or discussing mundane matters, then you will delight in God…” ( 13-14) In order to achieve the true goal of Shabbat, we do not only refrain from the literal definition of work, we also relax and slow down. It is a blessing to slow down, and simply reconnect with God.
In Israel the legal day of rest is Shabbat, Saturday. On Saturday, businesses are not allowed to be open, there is no public transportation and people use the time to spend with family and friends. Shabbat begins on Friday night after sunset. The family gathers around as the women light candles and when everyone returns from synagogue, we have warm, family meals. Many parents use this time to ask their children about the week that passed and try to focus on the highlights of the week.
In today’s fast-paced world where we are always connected and always working, Shabbat is truly a gift. Recently, someone said to me that they can’t believe I observe the strict laws of Shabbat, saying that it is archaic and outdated. I responded that I am so grateful to have one day a week that I disconnect from my phone, computer, and ipad. I do not have the temptation to glance at work emails, or check for social media updates. I am focused on my family, friends, and God. In today’s world, we are constantly literally working. Our bosses are emailing us straight to our phones at all hours of the day. Perhaps the commandment to rest on Shabbat is more relevant than ever, and we are so blessed to have it.