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Thursday 19 of September 2019

19 Elul, 5779

SHABAT

To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of ... independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with [other people] and the forces of nature--is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for [humanity]'s progress than the Sabbath? 

“The Sabbath” Abraham Joshua Heschel 

Most of us forget that Shabbat, the Jewish institution that establishes one sacred day of rest every week, had no parallel in other ancient civilization whatsoever. In the ancient times free time was limited to dominant classes, and in the case of servants, workers and, obviously, slaves, rest was not even considered. In the old days the Shabbat was a revolution, and it still is today. In words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Shabbat is “a day of hope for humanity”.

 

Why do Jews observe the Shabbat?

"Shabbat" comes from the root Shin -Bet -Tav, which means “cessation till the end or to rest”. The Torah includes two reasons in the two versions of the Ten Commandments in order to observe the day of rest:

We can find the first one in Exodus 20: 8-10, where the text compels all creatures to rest the seventh day as God did. Therefore, the Shabbat commemorates the act of creation and gives the human beings a spiritual dimension connecting them to their neshamah.

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements”. 

The second one we find it in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, and the text remind us that we also were slaves and, therefore, we must extend the benefits of the Sabbath to all human beings, free or captive, that are among us. It is a remainder of our commitment to freedom and social justice.

“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day us a Sabbath of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work —you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day”.

The Shabbat is more than a day of rest. It is an experience that is often described as "an island in time”, an island that extends to all the people around us—family, friends, the community, our business’ workers, even foreigners… all the people that live with us, Jews or not.

The Shabbat is not only a day for praying —its essence goes far beyond that. As Abraham Heschel comments:

"On Shabbat we must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul”.

We say ‘Shabbat Shalom!’ because the Shabbat is a moment of peace, of menujah (rest), joy, a time to contemplate the wonders of nature, a spiritual gift to human kind.

The Shabbat is one of the pillars of Judaism. As Ahab Haam said “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.” As Jews we have observed the Shabbat all through our history, even in the most dreadful situations, because thanks to Sabbath we were able to preserve our souls, our neshamah, as human beings and as a nation.

Nowadays, we observe Sabbath differently than we did in the ancient times, but the essence is the same. Every one of us must find his/her own way to observe it. To some of us it will be the time to study, to others to attend his/her family and enjoy the chance to rest, others will share with friends Friday dinner or Saturday lunch, others will prepare the communitarian oneg shabbat, others will attend the tefilah, others will invest their time in just causes, repairing the world, others will simply enjoy the silence. 

 

How are our Shabbat services?

In Bet Shalom, as is described in our tradition, the Shabbat is a space of peace, an island in time. Every week we meet in our kehilah to celebrate it together with joy and kavaná. In Shabat we have the opportunity to pray and study together, to enjoy community life.

One of the essential values of our tefilah is the involvement of community members in Kabalat Shabat and Shacharit —conducting, singing or making the weekly D’var Torah. Everyone is an active asset!

Children of all ages are always welcome. We love to have them in our tefilah! Also we celebrate Kabalat Shabat for families, starting at an early hour, where we provide special activities to the entire family.

 

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