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A Brief History of Shabbat

A Brief History of Shabbat

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1. Creation

“In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

For six days G‑d created. “G‑d saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good;

it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day. The heavens and the earth were completed, and all their host. G‑d completed on the seventh day His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.

“G‑d blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all his work which G‑d had created, to make.” (Genesis 1:31–2:3)


Hebron, 18th century BCE
2. Sarah’s Shabbat Lamp

(c) Michoel Muchnik
(c) Michoel Muchnik

Thirty-eight centuries ago, Abraham and Sarah embarked on a journey to bring the idea and morals of monotheism to a predominantly pagan world. Their journey took them from their native Ur Casdim to Charan (Mesopotamia), and from there to the land of Canaan, where they settled first in Hebron and later in Beersheba. They pitched their tents at the desert crossroads, and offered food, drink and lodging to all wayfarers of every tribe and creed. Wherever they went, they taught the truth of the One G‑d, creator of heaven and earth. (Genesis ch. 12; Talmud, Sotah 10a; Midrashim)

In Sarah’s tent, a special miracle proclaimed that the Divine Presence dwelled therein: the lamp she lit every Friday evening, in honor of the divine day of rest, miraculously kept burning all week, until the next Friday eve. When Sarah died (1676 BCE), the miracle of her Shabbat lamp ceased. But on the day of Sarah’s passing, Rebecca was born. And when Rebecca was brought to Sarah’s tent as the destined wife of Sarah’s son, Isaac, the miracle of the lamp returned. Once again, the light of Shabbat filled the tent of the matriarch of Israel and radiated its holiness to the entire week. (Bereishit Rabbah 60)


Egypt, 1373 BCE
3. A Day of Rest

(c) Zalman Kleinman
(c) Zalman Kleinman
Sarah and Rebecca’s descendants are now in Egypt, slaves of a cruel king. Moses, their destined leader, is rescued from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter, and is raised in the royal palace. “Then it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brothers, and saw their suffering.” (Exodus 2:11)

The Midrash relates: “Moses saw that they had no rest, so he went to Pharaoh and said: ‘If one has a slave and he does not give him rest one day in the week, the slave will die. These are your slaves—if you do not give them one day a week, they will die.’ Said Pharaoh: ‘Go and do with them as you say.’ So Moses ordained for them the Shabbat day for rest.” (Shemot Rabbah 1:32)


Marah, 24 Nissan, 1313 BCE
4. Mitzvah at Marah

G‑d appears to Moses in a burning bush, and empowers him to take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. After ten plagues and much nudging, Pharaoh finally lets them go. They cross the (miraculously split) Sea of Reeds, and come to Marah. “There G‑d gave them statutes and laws”—including the commandment to observe the Shabbat. (Exodus 15:25; Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b)


Zin Desert, 15 Iyar, 1313 BCE
5. Double Manna

A month after the Exodus, the matzah that the Children of Israel took with them from Egypt was finished. For the next forty years, the Israelites were sustained by the manna. “In the morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. The layer of dew went up, and behold, on the surface of the desert, a fine, bare substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘It is manna,’ because they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them: ‘This is the bread that G‑d has given you to eat.’” (Exodus 16:13–15)

The manna came each day, and provided that day’s precise needs. “Whoever gathered much did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less; each one according to his eating capacity, they gathered.” Indeed, it was forbidden to leave manna from one day to the next. (Exodus 16:18–19)

Every day, that is, except Friday. “It came to pass on the sixth day that they gathered a double portion of bread, two omers for each one. The leaders of the community came and reported it to Moses. And [Moses] said to them: ‘That is what G‑d has said: Tomorrow is a rest day, a holy Shabbat to G‑d. Bake whatever you wish to bake, and cook whatever you wish to cook, and all the rest leave over to keep until morning.’ So they left it over until morning . . . And Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a Shabbat to G‑d; today you will not find it in the field.’” (Exodus 16:22–26)

“‘See, G‑d has given you the Shabbat. Therefore, on the sixth day, He gives you bread for two days. Let each man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:29–30)

Today, we place two challah loaves on the Shabbat table and cover them with a cloth, to represent the dew-covered double portion of manna that came down from heaven in honor of Shabbat.


Mount Sinai, 6 Sivan, 1313 BCE
6. “Remember” and “Keep”

“Moses brought the people out toward G‑d from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. And the entire Mount Sinai smoked, because G‑d had descended upon it in fire . . . and the entire mountain quaked violently. The sound of the shofar grew increasingly stronger . . . And G‑d spoke all these words, saying . . .”

Ten Commandments were spoken that day at Sinai, ten mitzvot that form the core of the Torah. The fourth commandment concerned the Shabbat:

“Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it. Six days may you work and perform all your labor. But the seventh day is a Shabbat to the L‑rd your G‑d; you shall do no work—neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your beast, nor your sojourner who is in your cities. For [in] six days G‑d made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, G‑d blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it.” (Exodus 19:17–20:1; 20:8–11)

When Moses reviews the Ten Commandments (in Deuteronomy ch. 5), the fourth commandment begins: “Keep the Shabbat day . . .” The Talmud explains: “Zachor (‘remember’) and shamor (‘keep’) were said by G‑d in a single utterance—something which the human mouth cannot articulate, and the human ear cannot hear . . .”

We remember the Shabbat by proclaiming its sanctity over a cup of wine in the kiddush and havdalah rituals; we keep the Shabbat by abstaining from work. But the “positive” and “negative” aspects of Shabbat are one—two faces of its singular essence—as demonstrated by the two-as-one divine utterance.


Sinai Desert, 11 Tishrei, 1313 BCE
7. The Tabernacle: Work Defined

“You shall do no work” was the divine command. But what constitutes “work”?

Four months after the revelation at Sinai came the request from G‑d, “They shall make for me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell amidst them,” accompanied by detailed instructions as to how this sanctuary is to be constructed. And on that same occasion, the commandment to keep the Shabbat was reiterated: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to G‑d” (Exodus 35:2). Teaching us—explain our sages—two things: 1) That the work we are enjoined and empowered to do six days a week is, in essence, the work of making a home for G‑d out of the materials of our physical lives; 2) That this work is the work we must cease on Shabbat.

Studying G‑d’s detailed instructions to Moses for the making of the Sanctuary, the Mishnah (Shabbat 73a) identifies thirty-nine melachot—categories of creative work—that were involved in the making of the Sanctuary. These include: all stages of agricultural work, from plowing and sowing to reaping and winnowing and baking; weaving and sewing, writing, building, and lighting a fire.

The 39 melachot and their derivatives form the basis and core of the laws of Shabbat rest.


Sinai Desert, 11 Tishrei, 1313 BCE
8. Shabbat Torah Reading Instituted

To convey G‑d’s instructions regarding the making of the Sanctuary and the observance of Shabbat, “Moses gathered together the entire community of the Children of Israel.” in doing so, “Moses instituted for all generations that Jews should gather in their synagogues to read from the Torah on Shabbat”—as Jews throughout the world do to this very day. (Exodus 35:1; Yalkut Shimoni on this verse)

The annual Shabbat Torah reading cycle is more than a weekly lesson; it’s how we “live with the times”—finding in the current week’s Torah portion (“Parshah”) direction and inspiration for every event and action in our daily lives. (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)


The Holy Land, 2nd century BCE
9. The Invention of Cholent

No one knows who was the first person to put up a pot of cholent on Friday afternoon. But this trademark Shabbat dish has its origins in the dispute between the Torah-faithful Jews and a breakaway Jewish sect called the Tzedukim.

The Tzedukim (also known as the Sadducees) accepted the Written Torah but rejected the Torah She-Baal Peh (“Oral Torah”)—the traditional interpretation of the Torah which Moses received at Sinai, and which was handed down through the generations from teacher to disciple. When the Tzedukim read in the Torah, “You shall not burn any fire in all your homes on the Shabbat day” (Exodus 35:3), they understood the verse literally—and spent the entire Shabbat in the cold and dark. Their Shabbat meals were bereft of the glow of candlelight, and while the food cooked before Shabbat may have retained some of its warmth for the Friday night meal, their Shabbat day meal consisted of cold food only. The traditional interpretation, however, is that it is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbat (the creation of fire being one of the 39 melachot), but one can certainly derive benefit from fire that was lit before Shabbat.

Thus, the Jews who were faithful to the Sinaitic tradition made it a point to include at least one hot dish in their Shabbat daytime meal, which was cooked and placed on the fire before Shabbat and simmered on a covered flame1 all night long—both to honor and pleasure the Shabbat, and to express their rejection of the Tzedukim’s false interpretation. Hence cholent: a stew (typically of meat, beans and potatoes, but also made with a great variety of stewable foods) that is eaten in the daytime meal.

“Caesar asked Rabbi Joshua ben Chananya: Why do Shabbat foods smell so good? Said he to him: We have a special spice, ‘Shabbat’ is its name . . .” (Talmud, Shabbat 119a)


Israel and Babylonia, 100 BCE–300 CE
10. Preparing for Shabbat

(c) Shoshannah Brombacher
(c) Shoshannah Brombacher

By instruction as well as by personal example, the sages of the Talmud taught to honor and pleasure the Shabbat.

“It was said of the sage Shammai that all his days he ate for the honor of the Shabbat. How so? For when he found a prime specimen, he would say, ‘This is for Shabbat.’ Then, if he found a better one, he would set aside that one for Shabbat, and eat the first one . . .” (Talmud, Beitzah 16b)

“Said R. Judah in the name of Rav: So was the custom of R. Judah bar Ila’i: On Friday, they would bring before him a tub filled with hot water, and he would wash his face, hands and feet; he then wrapped himself in fringed sheets, and would have the appearance of an angel of G‑d.” (Talmud, Shabbat 25b)

Rava would personally prepare the fish for Shabbat. Rav Chisda chopped vegetables. Rabbah and Rav Yosef chopped wood. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak would be seen running about on Friday, carrying bundles on his shoulders. Many of these were wealthy men who had numerous servants to do their work; yet they insisted on personally toiling in honor of the Shabbat. (Talmud, Shabbat 119a; Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Shabbat)


Worldwide, 142 BCE to date
11. Sacrifice and Martyrdom

Shabbat is the eternal soulmate of the people of Israel, and our source of strength and endurance. This was recognized by friend and foe alike. Throughout the generations, our enemies have repeatedly attempted to take away the Shabbat from us.

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled the Holy Land, they forbade Shabbat observance. Many Jews fled the cities to live in the caves of the Judean hills, so that they could keep the day of rest. Many were discovered and killed. Finally, the Jews revolted and fought for the right to keep their religion. Their miraculous victory is celebrated to this day with the festival of Chanukah. (Book of Maccabees; Talmud)

The Jew continued to sacrifice for Shabbat throughout the long night of exile. In Rome, Jewish slaves were beaten for refusing to work on Shabbat. In Inquisition-era Spain, secret Jews (“anusim”) gathered in underground cellars to light the Shabbat candles and make kiddush. Under Soviet rule, Jews suffered hunger, imprisonment, exile to Siberia and worse for being “religious parasites”—i.e., people who wouldn’t work on Shabbat. Even in Auschwitz, Jews went to superhuman lengths to sanctify the holy day.

And yet it has also been said that “more than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.”


United States, 1920–1950
12. The Shomer Shabbat Movement

In the decades that closed the 19th century and opened the 20th, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled the pogroms, persecutions and crushing poverty of Eastern Europe in search of a better life in America. But the “New World” offered its opportunities at a steep spiritual price. Shabbat was still a regular workday in the United States; “blue laws” forbade the opening of businesses on Sunday; and the “melting pot” credo preached the abandonment of “non-American” religions and cultures. A primary casualty was the Shabbat. Many Jews felt that they could not earn a living in America without working on Shabbat; others saw it as a hindrance to the dream of assimilation within, and acceptance by, American society. The Jew’s thousands-year-long tenacious hold on the Shabbat was slipping.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the tide began to turn. Jewish labor leaders campaigned for a five-day workweek. Rallies were held in support of Shabbat observance. Consumer groups formed, pledging to support businesses that kept the Shabbat; soon Shomer Shabbat (“Shabbat Observant”) signs were being displayed in shop windows. Shabbat clubs were conducted for Jewish children. Slowly, the momentum built, laying the groundwork for large-scale return to Judaism and Shabbat observance in the decades to come.


Israel, 1948
13. Shabbat Goes Legal

Though conceived as a “secular” state, the modern state of Israel passed a law, shortly after its establishment, declaring Shabbat the official day of rest. In most localities, commercial businesses are closed and public transportation does not operate on Shabbat; government agencies and government-controlled corporations are officially Shabbat observant.


New York, 1974
14. The Shabbat Candle-Lighting Campaign

In 1974, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, launched a worldwide Shabbat Candles campaign, to encourage Jewish women and girls to bring the light of Shabbat into their home by fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles on Friday evening, 18 minutes before sunset. In particular, the Rebbe campaigned to restore the age-old custom (dating back to the matriarch Rebecca) that young girls, too, should light their own candle. In a time of increasing darkness, the Rebbe declared, we must respond with an increasing of light.

In the years since, the Rebbe’s followers and emissaries across the globe have distributed millions of Shabbat candle-lighting kits, and have introduced countless thousands of Jewish women and girls—and their families—to the beauty and holiness of Shabbat.


The Immediate Future, Everywhere
15. The World to Come

(c) Michoel Muchnik
(c) Michoel Muchnik

Shabbat, our sages tell us, is “a taste of the World to Come.” As the six-day workweek culminates in Shabbat, so too will the six millennia of our work and toil to make to world a home for G‑d culminate in the messianic era—“the day that is wholly Shabbat and tranquility, for life everlasting.” (Talmud, Berachot 57b; Nachmanides on Genesis 1; Grace After Meals)

“And at that time, there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry. For goodness will be plentiful, and all delicacies available as dust. The entire occupation of the world will be only to know G‑d . . . For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G‑d, as the waters cover the sea.” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 12:5)

May it be now.

Footnotes
1.
The melachah of lighting a fire also includes adding fuel to a fire, or stoking its embers or coals so as to increase its heat. Thus, a rabbinical ordinance forbids leaving food on an open flame, lest one forget and, out of habit, inadvertently violate the Shabbat by stoking the fire (or turning up the flame, etc.). Hence the blech—a metal sheet placed over the fire, upon which the cholent pot (and any other food that one wishes to keep warm for Shabbat) is placed. The fact that the flame is covered makes it less accessible, and serves to remind us that it is forbidden to tamper with it.
Yanki Tauber served as editor of Chabad.org
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma May 4, 2013

For me, everyday is Shabbat, and it has been this way for longer than I can remember. Today, the apple trees are arrayed in white, as in what is pure, as in weddings, and it's all about LOVE, as spring is also for wells and for mayim, water: robins crowd my lawn waiting for handouts, several turkeys were heard in their gobbling, and the pine made me ache for something coming. I do believe there's something in the air, we're heir to, and the loom of this, the total astounding loom of this, will be an heirloom, which in looking backwards, we will all wonder, how could we not have seen this?

I am waiting for G_d to open the gates, because I see IT, every day, in every way, and maybe I am being messaged, but I also know, we're all in this together, and all drawing from the same, deep Source. Sign Nature of all things. A winging, singing Creation. Reply

Anonymous Delray Beach, FL April 17, 2013

I'm curious--how would a person in/on a satellite circling the earth calculate the start/end of Shabbat? Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield, MI, USA via baischabad.com April 16, 2013

Rivka Holtzberg murdered by terrorists in Mumbai, India Reply

Menachem Posner April 16, 2013

As you both pointed out, the closer we get to the poles, the more extreme the times become. In fact, I remember bringing in Shabbat close to midnight in some parts of Russia.

And then there are the places where there is no day at all during the winter and no night during the summer. In those areas, the laws of Shabbat are complicated indeed - and the Shabbat time are not available on our calculator during those times of the year. If you plan to travel so far north or south, make sure to consult a rabbi before you go. Reply

anonymous Jerusalem April 16, 2013

If you live in such a place, you have to ask a Rabbi, as soon as possible, preferably before the next Sabbath. The Rabbi has to be a " posek", that is, qualified to give such rulings, someone like the late Rav Eliyashiv, fo blessed memory. Reply

anonymous Jerusalem April 16, 2013

What happened to Rivka? What do you mean "lost"? Can we do anything to help find her? Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield, MI, USA via baischabad.com April 15, 2013

I live fairly far north, and you are correct. For me the earliest Shabbat will start at about 4:30, the latest will end shortly after 10:00. You aren't far from Vancouver, so your times are a little more extreme, about 4:00 earliest starting, and 10:30 ending.

For those even closer to the polar circles it gets more complicated. It can be an interesting topic to study. But if all you want is fast answers, go to the chabad.org candlelighting wizard, and it will do the calculations for you. If your city isn't listed, you can use Google maps on a smartphone to get your latitude and longitude. Reply

Lorne Thomson Coquitlam, BC, Canada April 15, 2013

Keeping the Sabbath in the Holy land or near the equator is easy because the sunsets about the same time day after day. But what is one to do when the sun may set at 12am, 12pm or any other time in between? When in the middle of summer the sun won't set for days or weeks on end? And in winter when the sun isn't seen for days or weeks? Reply

Joy 33713 March 5, 2013

For seven years I've lit my Shabbat candles ....since I found out about my Jewish heritage...in fact I light an extra candle for Revka lost in India..........I am growing and not feeling so alone since I belong to a huge tribe!!! Reply

Terence Toronto, Canada October 10, 2012

It is important to remember that at the center of all the beautiful and traditional shabbat observances there is one essential theme - to REMEMBER G-D and everything that G-D has done for us. And this remembrance is not from the head alone, but essentially from the heart.

Shabbat is a day for remembering to accept G-D's blessing into our hearts. When we bless G-D over the challah and wine, we express our acceptance and gratitude for G-D's blessing for us.

There is a widespread understanding among people of faith that when we remember G-D, G-D remembers us.

Of course, G-D always remembers us, but we 'close the circuit' when we set aside this time to remember him from our hearts. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem, Israel September 26, 2012

The saving of a human life overrides the Sabbath, and therefore a phone call made to an ambulance or driving to the hospital with the sick person are not only permissable but also obligatory. Driving or calling for any other reason, like visiting a sick person or driving to shul, are forbidden and is a serious Sabbath desecration. Driving a sick pet to the vets is forbidden. Now, I know that the animal lovers will take objection to this. So I will answer them in advance: This is God's world. He created it and keeps it going. He created people and also animals. He gave us laws pertainig to their treatment and said we have treat them properly. But He does not allow us to desecrate the holiness of the Sabbath in order to save them. It's His Sabbath, His animals and HIs law. Using a computer, turning a light or stove off, putting out a candle, turning off electrical equipment during a power failure, writting and drawing, are forbidden. Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tova! Reply

Augustine Hourigan Glasgow, Scotland September 23, 2012

It is a very interesting article. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem, Israel July 8, 2012

Shabbos is a day when we are supposed to stop our handiwork (melacha) and thlink of G-d's melacha: the beauty and wonder of all of creation. the greatness of the human eye, ears and the entire body. the magnificence of trees and fruit. the seeds and peel and colors and aroma and taste. The glory of the heavens and the earth and all that He created for us. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI/USA via baischabad.com June 13, 2012

Jim
The Shabbat is to remember creation, HaShem withdrew a bit on Shabbat, and so do we. It would have been more clear to say that the Shabbat refered to was the 1st observed in Egypt by the enslaved Hebrews.

Fruma,
We are supposed to live by the mitzvot, so here is a basic rule: You do anything, in the most expedient manner to save a life, or even if the loss of life is only possible. There are varying shades of gray for when we are preventing damage, or curing pain. (If you know your child has a broken leg, waiting until shabbat ends to seek treatment may be possible, but it is also foolish.) The conditions that would make you call 911 make that call fine, and you don't ask, you just call. Likewise, if the drive to the hospital is to the emergency area or labor & delivery it is/was probably fine. To a regular appt, no.
Most of the rest of your list consists of prohibited acts.
I suggest you set up a class with a more knowlegable person to learn about shabbat observance. Reply

Carol Dempsey St Petersburg, Florida USA June 8, 2012

I signed up to be notified when comments are made to this article and it could not have come at a perfect time.
I was feeling separated from the family and the blessings the observance that this day brings with the constant pulling of the world. I stand refreshed renewed and revived to hold tight to the day of rest.Thank You Reply

Tim Upham Tum Tum, WA June 7, 2012

On Shabbat, I would also leave my car in the drive way, and walk to the location. Sometimes, it would be up to 5 miles long. I would get to the synagogue, and see the parking lot full with vehicles. Some of those people probably did not have the physical stamina to walk such long distances. But I did, and it gave me time to reflect on what Shabbat really was about. Many times, I would pass people I knew, who obviously wanted to experience the same I did, and that is knowing what Shabbat is all about. A day of reflection. Reply

Fruma Delray Beach, FL June 6, 2012

I'd like to know which, if any, of the following are considered violations of Shabat (maybe all)):
1. Using the telephone for any reason
2. Using the telephone to call 911
3. Driving for any reason
4. Driving to visit someone in the hospital
5. Driving to take someone to the hospital
6. Driving to get to shul
7. Driving to take a sick animal to the vet
8. Using a computer that is already on
9. Turning a light or a stove off
10. Putting a candle out
11. Writing or drawing for pleasure
12. Turning electrical equipment off during a power failure



Reply

Carole Oosthuizen Uitenhage, South Africa January 14, 2012

For how long must the candles burn? Reply

lori hsb, id via jewishidaho.com October 25, 2011

Your welcome Bicanca Wanogho....God be all the Glory. I pray God bless you all this new year in a Mighty way. Reply

Jason Paraiso Fort Lee, Va October 22, 2011

This is such a blessing to know and understand God's plan for the world and the world to come. God bless you all. I love u. Shabbat Shalom! Reply