Shabbat (also known as “Shabbos” or the “Sabbath”) is the centerpiece of Jewish life, and has been so since the creation of the world. According to the Talmud, Shabbat is equal to all the other commandments. Shabbat is a day of being, not doing. As interpreted by the rabbis, the day’s multitude of do’s and don’ts are essentially about not making anything, not destroying anything, and simply taking the world as we find it for one day. The rest of the week, we Jews are exhorted to improve the world, better ourselves, and provide for our extended families in whatever roles in which we find ourselves. But this day: just be. Serve G-d not in changing the world, but in relaxing into what’s already there.
In religiously-observant homes, Friday afternoon is usually a hectic time. Food to prepare, emails to answer, floors to clean and the table to lay etc. It can get to be a little much, especially if you’ve been at work all day, or dealing with the kids. But then, when the candles are lit, a change takes place. Now there is nothing to do. What is done is done, what is not is not, and Shabbat is here.
Shabbat is a day of rest and celebration that begins on Friday at sunset and ends on the following evening after nightfall.
In the Book of Genesis it is read that G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The sages say that on that day, G‑d created menuchah, rest, without which sustained creativity would be impossible.
After G‑d took the Children of Israel out of Egypt in the year 2448, He taught them about the Shabbat: working for six days and resting on the seventh. Shabbat is also one of the 10 Commandments that G‑d transmitted at Sinai several weeks after the exodus. Thus, Shabbat commemorates both the creation of the world and G‑d’s intervention in world affairs when he took His nation out of slavery.
Throughout the 40 years that our ancestors wandered in the desert, nourishing manna would rain down from heaven, except on Shabbat. But no-one went hungry, extra rations would fall on Friday, so that everyone would have more than enough for the holy day.
The sages of the Talmud enumerate 39 forbidden creative acts that we do not do on Shabbat. The sages explain that each of these acts is a ‘father’ that has many ‘offsprings’ that are also forbidden due to their intrinsic similarity to the parent act.
The first group of 11 acts are related to process of making bread, from ploughing, sowing and reaping to kneading and baking. The second group is comprised of 13 steps needed to create garments, from shearing to tearing. Third come the 9 stages of scribal arts (using parchment), from trapping to writing and erasing. The last group of acts is comprised of building and destroying, burning and extinguishing, finishing a product and transporting things in the public domain.
Some common activities that we may not do on Shabbat:
- Turning on or off lights or operating electrical appliances (including phones)
- Carrying in the public domain (defined as public areas outside of an eruv enclosure)
The melachot (prohibitions) of Shabbat are based upon the thirty-nine categories of labour associated with the building of the temple. The melachot are generally divided into six groups, classified according to the Mishkan’s activities with which they are associated.
Any tool that would enable you to do one of these prohibitions would be considered muktseh. As an example, turning the key in an engine would be connected to ‘kindling a fire’ and therefore driving is not permitted on Shabbat. A car key is then classed as muktseh and should not be touched on Shabbat as it will have no use in sanctifying the day.
Shabbat is celebrated with an extra service on Friday night in shul, a special meal on Friday night and Shabbat morning each starting with Kiddush and two loaves of Challah as well as a third meal on Shabbat day called seudah shlishit.
On Shabbat one would greet another by wishing the a ‘Shabbat Shalom’ or a ‘Good Shabbos’.