As the traditional Jewish saying goes, “More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, it is the Sabbath that has kept Israel.” And while technically it is the nation and the people of Israel who were the ones keeping the seventh day holy and separate from all other days, still this old proverb points to a deep and powerful truth regarding the efficacy and importance of the Sabbath.
As it is written in Genesis 2:2-3,“ And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done, then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
Anyone who has ever visited Israel during the Sabbath Day knows what I’m writing about. It seems that the entire nation enters a different world for this 24 hour period beginning Friday evening and ending Saturday evening. Commerce slows down to a minimal including shopping malls and grocery stores, public transportation stops completely, most folks spend the day resting, worshipping, or with family, and even El Al, Israel’s national airline, does not fly. Naturally, the Orthodox Jews observe the Sabbath with great dedication and attention to rabbinical instruction and detail. But the non-observant Israelis, including the nation’s many minorities, are as committed to and grateful for their Sabbath as their orthodox neighbors are.
While the term “Seventh Day” appears in the Bible many times starting with the creation account in Genesis chapter two, the actual name “Sabbath” (“Shabbat” in the Hebrew language) is mentioned for the first time in Exodus chapter 16 in the context of the miraculous Manna provision and God’s instructions on how to collect and enjoy it. In this story, for the first time, the seventh day is given its unique and special name, Shabbat; a name that appears nearly 130 times from that point on throughout our bibles with dozens of mentions in the gospels (chiefly relating to Jesus’ ministry in the synagogues during Sabbath services), with the last mention in the book of Acts chapter 16.
There are a few cycles of time governing human activity that are common to all peoples, nations and cultures. The DAY is the 24 hour period during which the earth makes a full turn around its own axis, giving us the day and night seasons. The MONTH is the time it takes the moon to complete a full orbit around the earth, which averages between 29-30 days depending on the calendar used. The YEAR measures the time it take the earth to complete one full orbit around the sun, 365 to 366 days according to the Gregorian calendar, giving us the four seasons. However, the seven day WEEK cycle is unique since it does not depend on any of the celestial bodies or astronomical movements in the heavens.
The weekly cycle, and the Sabbath as its crowning day, stands alone by divine decree. It is not hinging on the universal movements nor does it influence the annual seasons of growth and harvest. The week exists to commemorate God’s creative work, and the Sabbath is His gift to His children. A time to rest, to pause from the labors and frantic activities of life, and to worship Him.
Jesus, when confronted by religious hypocrites about his disciples munching on grain they found in the fields during the Sabbath replied, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28. And nowhere on earth will you experience the Sabbath in its absolute beauty and tranquility as you will when visiting Israel.
Shabbat Shalom, and we’ll see you here soon.
By Samuel Smadja