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I am interested in observing Shabbat. Where do I start?

by Rabbi Shais Taub

  

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Although there are six hundred thirteen mitzvahs, Shabbat holds a special place in the life of a Jew and observance of Shabbat is considered to be in some ways equivalent to the most important Mitzvah, the very belief in G-d. This is because the observance of the Shabbat is how we express our belief that this world isn’t some cosmic stroke of luck, rather it was deliberately created by G-d in six days, and on the seventh day He rested.

Indeed, Shabbat is one of the Ten Commandments written upon the tablets which Moses brought forth from Mount Sinai. But Shabbat can also be a daunting prospect for those unaccustomed to its many rules and restrictions. But, perhaps we can begin to approach this tremendous mitzvah in context of the aforementioned Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are written in the Torah twice, once in the book of Exodus when the Jews stood at Sinai and once more in the book of Deuteronomy when Moses repeats many of the important events which took place during the forty year sojourn in the desert. In one place,1 the commandment reads, “Guard the Sabbath” and in the other place,2 it says, “Remember the Sabbath.”

Our tradition explains that there are really two aspects to Shabbat: guarding and remembering
Our tradition explains that there are really two aspects to Shabbat: guarding and remembering. Guarding Shabbat means to protect the sanctity of the day as a holy place in time and not to allow the influx of outside influences to mar its tranquility. In other words, all of the “don’ts” of Shabbat.  Remembering Shabbat means to actively mark its arrival with celebration and to acknowledge its centrality in our lives. In other words, all of the “do’s” of Shabbat.

Many people find that when first starting out, the do’s are a lot more attractive than the don’ts.  Hey, hearing Kiddush, eating Challah, singing songs and sitting around the Shabbat table with friends and discussing Torah with the rabbi is an easy sell. It’s the prohibitions that most people get stuck on. No driving, no cell phone, no internet, no golfing!

Although no formal study has been done to produce any solid numbers, I think it is safe to say that most people begin their exploration of Shabbat with a fervor for “remember the Shabbat” and only later get involved in “guarding” it.

It seems to follow logically that if a person begins to feel strongly for the beauty of this special day, they will eventually find it increasingly easier to give things up that they thought they couldn’t. After all, if you’re too busy doing Shabbat, you don’t have time to notice the other stuff that you’re not doing on Shabbat.

Bottom line, if you’re just starting out, I would highly recommend that you begin observing as much of the “do’s” of Shabbat as possible. Invite yourself over to your local rabbi’s house and have fun. As Shabbat gradually becomes more and more a part of your life, you will naturally feel the desire to start easing away from the distractions that all of the “don’ts” are designed to protect you from.

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 5:12.
  • 2. Exodus 20:8.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Repentance
Holidays » Yom Kippur » Repentance

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Challah
A loaf of bread. Usually refers to: 1) The section of dough separated and given to the priest (today that section is burnt). 2) The sweetened, soft bread customarily consumed at the Sabbath meals.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
Deuteronomy
The fifth of the Five Books of Moses. This book is a record of the monologue which Moses spoke to the Israelites in the five weeks prior to his passing.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.