Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to Observe the Shabbat


The 4th out 10 commandments (see this post) speaks about The Day of Rest (Shabbat). Let's take a look:

Exodus 20:8-11:
‎8 ‏זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ
9 ‏שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒
‎10 ‏וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת׀ לַיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֣֨ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡֜ה אַתָּ֣ה׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּ֠בִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤֨3 וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֜֙3 וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔֗ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖֙ אֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽ֔יךָ
‎11 ‏כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖נַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑י עַל־כֵּ֗ן בֵּרַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת וַֽיְקַדְּשֵֽׁהוּ׃ ס 
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
So what is Shabbat and what can and can't be done in it?

First and foremost, the Commandment speaks about Rest (or Intermission) from work. But what work?
The clue is provided right in the Commandment text. In Exodus 20:9, the word תעבד (taavod - you-shall-serve) implies that the Commandment talks about SERVILE WORK (or the work of service/servitude/burden). This word is closer in meaning to slave work rather than voluntary work. 

Additional clues are also provided in verses of Lev. 23:7, Lev. 23:8, Lev. 23:35, Numb. 28:18 e.t.c., where it says that you shall not do כל מלאכת עבדה (kol-melechet avodah - ALL WORK of SERVICE). Of'course there is no single explicit verse where it says that in regard to Shabbat. However, in Lev. 23:3 it defines the Shabbat as שבת שבתון מקרא קדש (Shabat Shabaton mikra-kodesh) exactly the wording used in above mentioned verses. I.e Exodus 16:23 where it says שבתון שבת קדש (Shabaton Shabat-kodesh). 

Another explicit clue about the Shabbat can be found in Exodus 12:16. Let's take a look:
‎16 ‏וּבַיּ֤וֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִקְרָא־קֹ֖דֶשׁ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם כָּל־מְלָאכָה֙ לֹא־יֵעָשֶׂ֣ה בָהֶ֔ם אַ֚ךְ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֵאָכֵ֣ל לְכָל־נֶ֔פֶשׁ ה֥וּא לְבַדּ֖וֹ יֵעָשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶֽם׃
16 And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.  
As you can see, cooking is allowed on Shabbat.

A word about inferences and traditional interpretations:

I've already discussed the verse of Exodus 35:3. See this post. In other words, a fire shall NOT be eradicated on Shabbat, meaning that its ok to start/put out fire on Shabbat, especially if we are talking about heating, cooking or other life necessities. 

Another prohibition can be found in Exodus 16:29. Here the word ממקמו (mimekomo - from place of him) or מקמ (mikum - place) can be interpreted as a place of dwelling. But it does not speak just about the house or property. This word can also mean a city or inhabited area. In other words, it is ok to travel LOCALY on Shabbat. However, one can't travel long-distance on Shabbat.

One other important fact is that Torah does not specify the day of the week for Shabbat. It simply says - the seventh day. This means that one can observe the Shabbat on Wednesday if the one wants. Of'course, traditional observance of Shabbat from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset is also acceptable.

One can spend money on Shabbat as long as it is not in one's gate (see Exodus 20:10) or house. More specifically, since we do not live by the laws of the Pentateuch, and because we live in exile, there is no explicit prohibition not to spend money on Shabbat. Yes, it may not be very ethical to make non-Hebrews work, but it is acceptable and does not violate any of the Shabbat commandments. 

Jewish tradition deducts prohibited types of work from the tasks that were required to build the Tabernacle. However, it is a very far-fetched assumption. Yes, in Exodus 36:3 (or Ex. 35:24, e.t.c) it does say למלאכת עבדת (limelechet avodat hakodesh - for work of service of the sanctuary) and yes, the construction of the Tabernacle did involve "servile work". However, I do not see direct connection here except for the similar wording. Especially considering the fact that the Tabernacle service would not be interrupted even on Shabbat (i.e Numbers 28:9-10)

Last but not least, I want to mention the verses of Numbers 15:32-36 as it is speaks about the prescribed punishment for the violation of the Shabbat. Until the incident mentioned in these verses, there are no verses in the Pentateuch that would explicitly state the punishment for the violation of the commandment. In this case, the punishment for violation of the Shabbat is death by stoning.
I disagree with the traditional Jewish interpretations that suggest that this passage has anything to do with fire as the main point of these verses seems to be centered around the punishment and not the definition of the Shabbat. And because as I explained above that the starting of fire is acceptable on Shabbat.

Other minor observations include the first word of the commandment, זכור (Zachor - remember). This wording is very interesting, because from my personal experience it is the hardest part to do. It is hard to remember the Shabbat on Friday and Saturday morning. Therefore, in my humble opinion, this is not accidental and was carefully thought through.

It is important to note that in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Shabbat commandment (Exodus 20:8) begins with the word שמור "guard" instead of traditional  זכור (remember).

Other thing about the Shabbat commandment, is that the it does not, for some reason, mentions a wife or a hireling. It does not mention a wife perhaps because the commandment seems to be directed to both man and his wife, thus it does not say "your wife" (because if a wife would read a commandment it would not make sense).
The absence of a mention of a hireling is also perhaps due to the fact that if all would observe the Shabbat, there would be no one to hire.

Another interesting observation is that during the Messianic Event (aka Exodus), the Shabbat is being reestablished and renewed by the first day on which a double portion of manna would fall out. See Exodus 16:22-23

What do you think?

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