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The Shabbat

by Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even-Yisrael

  

Library » Shabbat » A Day of Rest | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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In the book of Exodus,1 there is a verse: "See that the Lord hath given you the Shabbat." The Rabbis in the Talmud expanded this, saying: “The Lord said to Moses, 'I have a good gift in my treasury, and it is called the Shabbat. I want to give it to the Jews. Please go and tell them.'"

One would imagine that such a gift would be treasured by its recipients and perhaps copied by others. As it happened, it took centuries until the rest of the world attempted to duplicate this idea, but when they did, far too many of the original gift’s heirs showed a preference for the pale imitation.

Although all of the world’s cultures have holidays and feast days, none has such a day that is as bound to the idea of rest as that originally bequeathed to the Jews. Nevertheless, the notion of a right to a weekly day of rest is now an almost-universally established phenomenon, which has been secularized in Christian countries as “the weekend.” It is so deeply rooted, in fact, that it has begun to breed offspring: two- and even three-day weekends.

Now that this institution is so widespread, perhaps we should be asking some basic questions: What is the purpose of these days of rest? How do people use them? Are they beneficial?

These questions are not meant to be frivolous or facetious. In developed societies, “extra” leisure time can create problems. Psychologists have long noted, for example, that most family quarrels and disputes — especially those serious enough to cause irreparable rifts — tend to occur during days “off.” Industrialists have approached this challenge pragmatically, creating a massive and ever-growing leisure industry. It seems that the first question on the mind of the person leaving for vacation is, “What am I going to do with my time?” The obvious answer, which would be “just rest,” is clearly unacceptable.

Instead, industry and government create amusement parks, organized trips, casinos, sporting events and shopping tours — complex ways (often involving great physical or mental exertion) for people to spend, or kill, their leisure time. As society develops, the need for such diversions multiplies...and more time is wasted.

Let us go back, then, to the original day of rest, the Shabbat, which G-d told us is such a marvelous gift. The value of this gift is not immediately apparent. Rather, it only reaches its full actualization when people actively concern themselves with adhering to its details.

Footnotes

  • 1. 16:29.

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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.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
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.
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.
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.