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Why So Many Don'ts on Shabbat?

Why So Many Don'ts on Shabbat?



I love the Shabbat experience (especially the candle lighting and the kiddush), but why so many restrictions? No driving, no shopping, no playing music, no chatting on the phone — you're not even allowed to check your e-mail! Sounds more like a prison than a day of rest. Why not just focus on the beautiful rituals and the restful atmosphere? I'd love to start keeping Shabbat, but all that "don't do this" and "don't do that" is a real turn-off...


I'm reminded of a conversation I overheard the other day before at my child's swimming class.

The instructor had just concluded his ten-minute introductory lecture on the joys and perils of swimming. "Any questions?" he asked.

Ten-year-old Bobby raised his hand. "Can I play with my Gameboy while we're swimming?"

"No, Bobby," replied the instructor. "We shouldn't have any electronic devices with us in the water..."

"How about Scrabble then? Can I play Scrabble while I'm swimming — that's not electronic."

"No, Bobby, I don't think that would be possible."

"Can I wear my new cowboy boots?"

"I really wouldn't recommend wearing cowboy boots while swimming, Bobby."

And so it went. Bobby was disappointed to learn that he couldn't ride his bicycle, play the piano, paint the garage or eat a grilled cheese sandwich while swimming. He finally left in disgust — who needs swimming anyway, if all it is a bunch of you're-not-alloweds!

Bobby, of course, was being ridiculous. Swimming is not a bunch of don'ts. Swimming is a positive activity. Obviously, if you're going to be swimming, you're going to stop doing all the things that interfere with that activity.

"Rest" sounds easy. It isn't. It's the most unnatural activity in the universe On Shabbat we enter into a state of rest. "Rest" sounds easy. It isn't. It is the most unnatural activity in the universe. The universe — existence itself — is a giant perpetual motion machine. Everything in it, from galaxies to atoms, is constantly spinning, vibrating, dividing and multiplying, deconstructing and rebuilding, driving and striving. Not for a single moment does our heart stop pumping, our brain churning, our soul yearning. Earning a living is work, running a home is work, vacationing is work. Rest? The very fact that we can even articulate the idea of "rest" to ourselves is a miracle!

Indeed, our sages tell us that at the end of the six days of creation the world was complete. It had everything — except for one element. "What was the world missing? Rest. With the coming of Shabbat came rest." Rest is a creation — if G‑d had not created the seventh day, there would be no such thing as "rest." Even now, true rest is an elusive commodity, obtainable only via the active experience of Shabbat.

And to experience Shabbat rest, we need to cease work — that is, cease all creative involvement with our world. Plowing a field, for example, constitutes creative involvement with the world. Converting matter into energy (which is what we do every time we press down on the gas pedal or turn on an electrical appliance) constitutes creative involvement with the world. If you're creatively involving, you're not resting.

Swimming can be a very restricting state — if you forget about what it is you're doing and just think about all the things you're not doing because you're doing what you're doing. Shabbat, too, may feel restrictive at first. But once you shrug off those cowboy boots and chuck all thoughts of the piano playing out of your mind, the rest kicks in.

Yanki Tauber served as editor of
Illustration by Dovid Taub. Dovid is the creator of the Itche Kadoozy Show.
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Neomi montreal March 11, 2014

Brilliant Thank You!!! I just made your speech into a 12 year old girl's bat mitzva speech... ie simplified it for her to say and explain to her friends... they were all wow!! thank you for teaching me Yanki Tauber :) Reply

amos philippines June 20, 2012

shabbat (rest) what about the command on shabbat TO ASSEMBLE ON SHABBAT, We are living kilometers away from assembly area and we can not fulfill the command to assemble unless i drive? Reply

Donald Biringham, England March 3, 2012

shabbat was made for man and not man for the Shabbat Shabbat is not to be a millstone around our necks.We should not work or plough the field but man has added extra rules and regulations making shabbat a burden to most people. If electricity was availability back then I am sure we would be allowed to turn on a light.

james cooley Kansas city, Ks-usato March 1, 2012

day of rest After shabbath you will be downloaded, may be overloaded with ideas about solving problems, and doing your job. Tremendous article! Reply

Victoria Garden City, Idaho February 12, 2011

look at it this way How lucky you are that our creator has given you these children and families you provide for on Shabbat. My daughter is unable to carry a child so she would trade places with you if she could.She would watch your children with joy because these are moments to cherish.
Be grateful for the opportunity G-d has given you to raise these young souls.You may find your Shabbat duties less stressful and more fulfilling . A chance to have what others do not. A loving family that cherishes both you and the efforts you make to enhance their experience on this the most holy day of the week. Reply

Anonymous grreat neck October 25, 2010

I have a hard time feeling restful when my kids 2.5 and 4.5 yrs old...are going stir crazy on Shabbat and feel very very restricted! Also with all of the meals at home and feeding the family it doesn't feel so restful. Reply

Anonymous London, UK October 24, 2010

stop working against yourself for Shabbat When we are too busy we do not realise that our true needs get trampled by the demands of every day life, especially the need to find space to confront our feelings, and to perceive them as they truly are. We all have good and bad instincts; if we do not stop and see our lives in context, with the help of scriptures, the good and the bad seem inextricable, we find excuses to carry on with both inclinations, without realising that the progress we make towards our good goals is tarnished and sometimes, seriously compromised, by our creativity let loose to accomplish what some of our natural, but negative, instincts, drive us to do. I am realising that Shabbat is indeed creative rest, and for me it is so difficult at times: I am made to stop and look at my life as it is, and it is not always good, it can be painful; I can discern the idolatrous elements in my life and I am called to do away with them; it is a weekly check-up on my spiritual health; I realise that without G-d I am nothing. Reply

Yvette October 23, 2010

Shabbat freedom A day of not making the bed is always welcome. My struggle is with a job that works at least one weekend a month, the military. As of lately, I will be working almost every weekend for the next year. It will be difficult to balance life in a combat zone with Shabbat. Reply

Ariella Suva, Fiji Islands July 25, 2010

Shabbat yes, we have to walk in obedience Reply

Stacey Goldy-VerHaeghe Richmond, VA May 14, 2010

Do's and Don't's Add "have to" to the "don'ts and suddenly the don'ts don't seem so restricting. In fact, they seem like a being set free. We work so hard during the week, then harder on Friday to get everything done (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc., etc., etc., and more etc.) in preparation for Shabbat so that when the time comes to light the candles and FINALLY rest, oh how wonderful it is that for next 25 hours we "don't have to" do all that we would and will be doing when the week starts all over again. Reply

Anonymous London, UK December 12, 2008

Shabbat I Believe honouring the Shabbat is also walking in obedience, something histrocially we faulted on many times. For me, its the time to think about all G-d has done for us - things not deserved or earned and just thank Him for being so faithful. I find this helps me understand His goodness and keeps me mindful of all He has commanded. It makes me serve with a greatful heart and brings the unity so much needed in family. Its incredible to see that when we put G-d first, He honours everything we do! Reply

Kelly Geva Tempe, AZ July 26, 2008

Shabbat Shabbat is all about G-d and one of the presuppositions about G-d is that He is everything, everywhere and eternal. When G-d created and designed the universe it involved a process of change that is still ongoing. The covenant we have with our creator is established and continues by honoring each other (us and Him). G-d did very specific things to bring about how he has developed his part of the commitment and we have also done the same. G-d has given us the Law to help us to remember how to continue honoring the covenant with our generation after generation. This Law includes specific events that He created and the founding fathers initiated events as well. Each law connects back to something G-d did or something Abraham, Isaac or Jacob did. By keeping the Law we remember with our complete existence what the original covenant was and is. Shabbat is simply one of the flower petals on the Star of David by which we love G-d with and He in turn loves us with. Reply

Rivkah Chayah via February 10, 2008

Shabbat Laws Shabbat laws are intended to distinguish the holy, sacred time that Shabbat is from that of the secular week. One learns and practices these laws gradually. They are not a burden but rather a blessing. I recall to mind Psalm 19 when thinking about Shabbat laws and the whole of halachah or Jewish law. To paraphrase: "The commandments of G-d are better than gold, even much fine gold, and sweeter than honey, sweeter than the drippings of the comb." This helps me to remember to see the forest for the trees. For me, it is a wonderful mitzvah to develop into a shomeret Shabbat Jewish woman. It reminds me of the sacredness and precious gift that Shabbat is and it helps me be closer to G-d and to feel so good about nurishing my emerging neshama--Jewish soul (I'm in the process of converting to Judaism). Reply

Michael Maylen Westfield, IN via October 20, 2007

Why So Many Don'ts on Shabbat? Interestingly I found the article quite liberating. One must understand that it is not restrictive, but is actually freedom.

For example, I am in a wheelchair. If I cannont push a button, than surely I could not push my wheelchair. If I cannot push my wheelchair that means I cannot push the Garage door opener, nor push the button on the remote to lower the lift on my van to go somewhere and .....

So here I am waking up on Saturday morning so what can I do? TV is out, so is playing my game of hearts, But I could open the book of Scriptures and read. And if I were to read and study all day wouldn't that indeed be truly keeping the Shabbat?

By the way, I am not a Jew, and so today I did not stay in bed, I went out shopping with my wife, dined out, and now sit in fromt of my computer typing this message.

I wishi that the choice hadn't been there, I would be so much freerer today as a result! Reply

Anonymous March 10, 2007

"Proper Shabbat Observance" The article is bit to hard to swollow for me. "Creative involvement" can entail a miariad of things. If you've left your refrigerator plugged in, aren't you creativly involved in maintaing it's contents at the proper temperature? Or...What about the thermostat on your wall. By leaving it "on" your activly involved in using electricity or even gas heat in the winter, which by some that have added to the Word, violates proper Sabbath observance. Get a grip! Work is just that... work. Pressing on a gas petal or turning on a light is not work. Work with me for a day and I can show you very quickly the differnce between sweating and being comfortable. This way you will gain a good understanding of what work is and what it is not! Reply

Ralph Weedman Ft. Collins, Co. / USA February 3, 2005

I am humbled. You made it so simple and I make it so difficult. Reply

Anonymous Berkeley, CA January 29, 2005

Converting of matter I have a question on the matter of converting energy on Sabbath. We know that humans convert food into energy, so why are we allowed to walk on sabbath? I mean the matter is converted into energy right. I think the idea behind the rest is not creating new things. We have to use energy on shabbat to do the commandments, such as helping the needy. If we did such work in the week for pay then would doing it on the Sabbath be considered work?

I thought the article itself answered some very important questions which brought up others. Good Shabbes. Reply

Anonymous Rio, Brazil January 28, 2005

julie s letter - donts at Shabat I agree with Julie, there are many donts. And the "dos" don't help housewifes. How can I rest if I have to provide for the family, food, setting tables, cleaning them and dishes for the next meal, and so on.... For the modern woman, rest is not only stopping work at my job, but also not having anything to do at home, and the women in our religion are honoured with a lot of housework.... that's not fair... so my husband stops on shabes, but I go on..... Sorry, but every Friday I have the feelings, that my work is just starting.... Reply

Anonymous Arlington, TX January 26, 2005

Re: Why all the don'ts I enjoyed the analogy. But a question: Under that example of creating involvement...would swimming be considered work? I would say one would certainly be working to stay afloat in the water. Reply

Anonymous Houston, TX January 26, 2005

While I found the article about Shabbat very interesting and amusing, unfortunately, at the point of life where I am now I work hard during the week and I have 2 kids I do not have time for a lot of things. So I would like to take care of the house, talk to my friends, go shopping, watch TV and do some other things on a weekend. I am not at the point of my life where I can just have Shabbat. I want to enjoy my life as much as I can the way I can. So as one of us enjoys doing nothing, the other one enjoys been herself and this part of my life I am not willing to give up.

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