What is the Shabbat? Why is this day different? Is Shabbat the Lord’s day? How should it be celebrated and why? These are few questions that we, as Messianic believers, should honestly try to understand and answer. Unlike the other measures of time – the day, the month, the year – there is no natural phenomena indicating the passing of the week, except for the divine commandment, therefore, the significance of Shabbat is of divine nature. Jews had to pay dearly for the Shabbat observance and no sacrifice was too great to maintain this cornerstone of Jewish existence throughout the ages.
“Unlike the Festivals which are signified by the Shofar, the Lulav or the Sukkah, there are no ritual objects essential for the observance of the Shabbat; nothing is required but the readiness of the soul to establish a harmony between the soul of man and the divine,” writes Abraham Joshua Heschel. Shabbat is about our souls, about re-establishing the spiritual harmony between us and our Creator.
Genesis 2:2-3: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He Shabbat on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He had Shabbat from all his work which God created and made.”
What does the word Shabbat means? Most likely it is translated in your Bible as “rest” and I have to admit that I did not find a better one-English-word for it than this. But, did God “need” a rest? Or this word means much more than that. I believe that “to Shabbat” does not simply imply a negative action, to do nothing, as in rest, but a positive one, to do something instead of what you have been doing for six days. That is not only because the context in which the word is used, but also because the Hebrew language has other words for “rest.”
For example, one Bible passage that brings two other words in the context of Shabbat is Exodus 23:12: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall Shabbat; that your ox and your donkey may rest [nuach], and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed [nafash].” In this verse there are three words that hint of what Shabbat was meant to be: (1) Shabbat, to do something other than what you have been doing for six days in order to actively prepare to worship God – to stop toiling for the earthly things and concentrate on the heavenly; (2) rest, used here referring to animals because their physical strength requires to be replenished, thus this word denotes a physical – non spiritual, a concrete manifestation of “rest” which is only a part of what Shabbat means; and (3) refreshed, used here referring to people who may not necessarily share your beliefs but nevertheless have a soul that needs to be spiritually nourished and thus refreshed, this word implies another manifestation of “rest” but only another aspect of what the word Shabbat encompasses.
Before we can begin to grasp what I think God intended for us, the Messianic believers, to do on Shabbat, we have to understand what the Jewish community does, or thinks, about the Shabbat, keeping in mind two sayings found in the Jewish literature: “Observing the Shabbat properly is equivalent to observing the whole Torah,” and “The desecration of the Shabbat, is like denying the whole Torah.”
The individual starts preparing himself or herself early on Friday afternoon. Businesses are closed early; all cooking for the Shabbat day is also being done early. In some Hasidic communities – the ultra orthodox Jews - men and women go to a Mikveh – the ritual water immersion - and confess the sins of that particular week. The house has been cleaned; the bed sheets have been changed, and clothes reserved for Shabbat and special occasions are put on.
The Shabbat officially begins at sundown, the exact time varies from day to day, season to season, and, of course, from your location on the earth in relation to the sun. For example, if you live in Anchorage, Alaska, on June 22 - the summer equinox - the sun sets at 11:43 p.m., so you really have to adjust to that location. Now, if you visit a place above the Arctic Circle - where there are periods of time when the sun does not set or does not rise, thus extreme situations – and the Shabbat is upon you, the official beginning of the Shabbat can be declared either at 6 p.m. or at the time the Shabbat is declared in the city or town where you came from, whichever is earliest.
After the Shabbat has been officially declared, it is Erev (evening) Shabbat. From that moment to the conclusion of Havdallah service the next day, the entire period is marked by joy and holiness. The popular salutation is Shabbat Shalom or, the Yiddish version of it, Gut (goot) Shabbos.
The Shabbat begins with prayer and worship, whether in the home or in the synagogue.
In the Home: The duty of ushering in the Shabbat falls upon the woman of the household. She has the honor and the duty of performing the first of the Shabbat ceremonies, namely, the lighting of the candles. But, if no woman is available in the household, a man can perform this ceremony. The lighting of the candles must be done within 18 minutes before the official sunset, because after that it is considered work – the making of fire. On a festive table two white candles are set in sparkling polished candle holders and are ready to be lit. The lady of the house covers her head, spreads her hands over the lit candles in a circular motion three times and then covers her eyes while reciting the blessing:
Baruch ata Adonai eloheinu melech haOlam asher kid-shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lehad-lik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandment, and commanded us to kindle the light of the Shabbat.
But, strange enough, there is no Biblical commandment for the lighting of the candles. This custom is a rabbinical interpretation and the Talmud offers the explanation that two lights are kindled in accordance with the two versions of the fourth commandment, which begin with the words "observe" and "remember" (shamor v’zahor) – Deuteronomy 5:12: “Observe the Shabbat day to keep it holy, as YHWH your God has commanded you,” and Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Shabbat day to keep it holy,” respectively. So, the prevailing custom is to kindle two lights, although in many homes another beautiful custom prevails, the number or candles are according to the number of individuals in the family, but no less than two. The interpretation of these candles is that the Shabbat lights symbolize the beginning of a day of light and cheerfulness. The candles are white to indicate the purity and holiness of God's day.
Also, on this festive table, before or between the candlesticks are set two loaves of braided bread, covered with a special cloth. This bread is called Hallah, and is a reminder of the manna that the Israelites received in double portion for the Shabbat during their wanderings in the wilderness. If time permits, be encouraged to bake the Hallah at home; there is nothing like the smell of baked Hallah on Friday especially if you add a pinch of saffron. The cloth that covers the two loaves symbolizes the dew which appeared beneath and atop the manna. This cover is often ornate with Jewish symbols.
At the start of the meal the head of the household breaks the bread and recites the “HaMotzi” – who brings forth - blessing,
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha’olam, ha'motzi lehem min ha'aretz.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Then he passes a piece of bread to each of his family members who dip it into little salt before they eat it. This custom is taken from Leviticus 2:13: “And every sacrifice of your meal offering shall you season with salt.”
After that he chants the “Kiddush” - the sanctification of the Shabbat - blessing. For this rite a special wine goblet is used which is filled to overflow with kosher red wine – in order for the blessings to overflow in this household:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha’olam, boreh p’ree ha’gafen.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Wine, according to the rabbis, was an article of food as well as a symbol of joy, and thus was appropriate in ushering in the Shabbat. The purpose of the prayer of sanctification is to emphasize the holiness of the day and to give honor to the Shabbat. Every one present then enjoys a sip of wine from the goblet.
The meal is sumptuous and made from the best ingredients purchased especially for Shabbat. During and after the meal all the members of the family join in singing Shabbat Chants called Z’miroth. The spirits are lifted high with joy, and, some times, the ultra orthodox drink a bit more wine to bring the body at the same level with the spirit, as it was so wonderfully portrayed in the movie "The Chosen," based on the novel by the same name by Chaim Potok. The conclusion of the meal is marked by a prayer of thanks-giving known as Birchat Ha-Mazon, which is based on the Biblical verse from Deuteronomy 8:10 which says, “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God.”
Shabbat is a family time. The TV, the radio, the DVD/CD player, the i-pod, the telephone, the pager and the cell phones are all turned off before the Shabbat begins. There are no distractions from the family interaction. The lights were turned on before the Shabbat began and they will be turned off automatically right after going to bed - set on a timer. Also, before the Shabbat began, the light bulb in the fridge was unscrewed, the water heater pilot was turned off, or the hot faucets were covered so not to be used, the elevator was placed into the Shabbat mode – it stops at all floors and runs continually, therefore, one does not need to press the buttons; and one does not travel by car – the Synagogue is within the walking distance.
In the Synagogue – The Maariv service comprise of chanting several prayers from the Siddur, most of them Psalms. It usually follows a set pattern, but there are as many variations as are rabbis, including the sermon.
A typical Orthodox service may start with “Yedid nefesh” - beloved of my soul.
From early times the Shabbat was personified as Israel's bride who comes every week to unite the Jewish people with God. Therefore, next comes a beautiful poem, called “Lechah dodi,” welcoming the Shabbat queen, which opens with the line "Come my Beloved to meet the bride."
This poem includes a Messianic verse: “Come, my Beloved Shake the dust off yourself, arise, don your glorious garments, my people. Through the son of Yishai of Bet Lechem, draw near to my soul and redeem it.” i.e. Mashiah, a descendant of David the son of Yishai, who is from Bet Lechem – a reference to the prophecy of Micah 5:1 “But you, Beth-Lechem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth to Me, One who is to be ruler in Israel; and His origin is from ancient time, from days of eternity.”
Then comes the “Baruch hu” – the Blessing of God – which is chanted while standing, followed by the reciting of the “Shema” which can be done either standing or sitting, but in either case one must cover one’s eyes with the right hand. Then the “Amidah” prayer which is said standing and in silence - the word Amidah means standing - also, this prayer is known as “Shemoneh Esrei,” meaning eighteen, because it originally consisted of eighteen blessings – it is followed by the “Mourner’s Kaddish.” The Maariv Shabbat service concludes with a beautiful hymn, “Shalom Aleichem” – peace be unto you. Of course there are other prayers and Psalms inserted in-between, including a short sermon, but these are only the highlights of the Friday night service. Then everybody walks home.
For the Jewish people the Shabbat is primarily a day of prayer. The morning worship in the synagogue is longer than the daily Shacharith service with additional prayers and Psalms. The main feature of the morning service is the reading of the weekly Scripture portion and the ceremony of honoring the Torah.
After the service there is time for community to get together. The “Oneg Shabbat” - The Delight of the Shabbat, is an opportunity to assemble on Saturday afternoon for social and cultural activities and, of course, food. In Conservative and Reform congregations, an Oneg Shabbat is held following the Friday, Shabbat Eve, services. “Cholent” – an Yiddish word which means “heated” - a stew typically of meat, beans and potatoes is the highlight of the Shabbat daytime meal. Of course, the Cholent was prepared on Friday and kept warm in a crock pot.
In the afternoon, special Psalms are read and a second Torah service takes place, during which a chapter from the portion of the following week is read. Often discourses on various religious subjects are held by the rabbis. Between the afternoon service - Minchah - and the evening prayers - Maariv - the worshipers assemble for the study and discussion of Jewish literature. Many Conservative and Reformed congregations do not have afternoon services.
— Shabbat Prohibitions —
Mourning and Fasting: the prophet Isaiah in 58:13 says "Call the Shabbat a delight." Therefore, no aspect of sorrow or mourning is to be manifested. Funerals are expressly forbidden and where death occurred on the Shabbat, arrangements for the burial are made after the close of the Shabbat. Fasting is strictly forbidden since it is contrary to the spirit of joy. There is only one exception if Yom Kippur – the Shabbat Shabbaton, the Shabbat of Shabbats - occurs on Shabbat.
Work: Torah forbids working on Shabbat. While the Torah does not define which labors are forbidden, the rabbis took it upon themselves to do so in the Mishna, and defined thirty-nine forbidden forms of work. As one might expect at that time period these are mostly agricultural: plowing, reaping, slaughtering an animal, baking, dyeing wool, weaving, etc. These thirty-nine were later amplified in the Shulchan Aruch and these are the ones that the ultra-orthodox follows to the letter. Among these, there is an interesting one, “carrying”: we are forbidden to carry an object from a person's private dwelling to another. However, we are allowed to carry things within our own dwelling. As a result, in many communities, Jews would not be allowed, for example, to push their babies in baby carriages to go to Synagogue because they were carrying from their private dwelling to that of another. The Rabbis have found a way around this by "enclosing" the neighborhood, by tying an "Eruv" – mixture – a string around the boundaries of the neighborhood thus transforming a private into a shared or common dwelling. As a result of this “Eruv,” one is technically within his or her own dwelling and therefore, allowed to carry things. The Talmud devotes an entire tractate to the subject of eruv entitled “Eiruvin “
Saving lives supersedes any restriction: doctors can work - heal the sick; police, firefighters and army are on duty.
— Activities allowed on Shabbat —
Bar Mitzvah and Circumcision. Specially reserved for the Shabbat day is the ceremony of Bar Mitzvah - Son of Commandment. This is the acceptance into the religious practices of Judaism of a young boy who has reached the age of thirteen. In Conservative and Reformed Synagogues there is also Bat Mitzvah, for girls who reached the age of twelve, a ceremony much like the Bar Mitzvah. In some Orthodox communities some kind of ceremony for Bat Mitzvah is allowed, but without the reading from the Torah scroll. This ceremony takes place during the morning Torah service in the synagogue. The candidate is given the honor of reading from Scripture and is singled out for special attention.
Circumcision is mandatory on the eighth day following the birth of a male child. Hence it is performed on the Shabbat if it happens to be the eighth day. This is a most joyous occasion. Also, on the Shabbat day it is a special honor to give names and blessings upon newborn. This is usually done on the first Shabbat that the parents are able to attend services.
Hospitality. Strangers or visitors in the community were usually invited as guests to grace the Shabbat table. In our “modern” society, this custom is being replaced by inviting and visiting neighbors and friends instead, unless one knows the "stranger."
Visiting the Sick. Among the many worthwhile Mitzvoth one can perform on the Shabbat day is to visit the sick. This is a well established custom among the Jewish people even today, and children of teen age are encouraged to participate.
— Closing of the Shabbat – Havdallah Service —
Just as the Shabbat is ushered in with prayer and ceremony, so, too, is its departure. With light and joy does "Queen Shabbat" arrive, in the same spirit one says goodbye to God’s Holy Day. Havdallah is recited in the synagogue or at home immediately after the closing service of the Shabbat, or about an hour after sundown. Havdallah means “Separation” or “Division.” The word is used to distinguish between things holy and profane. The Havdallah service divides the holiness of the outgoing Shabbat from the secularness of the incoming week. The origin of the Havdallah ceremony has been attributed to the men of the Great Assembly in the fourth or fifth century BCE.
The Havdallah Ceremony consists of three features: 1) Blessing over wine, 2) Blessing over spices, 3) Blessing over light.
The Wine Cup: The Kiddush blessing is made over a cup of wine in honor of the holiness of the day. The cup of wine is allowed to overflow to symbolize the abundance of divine blessing to which one looks forward during the coming week. The custom of dipping a finger in the wine and passing it before the eyes is an expression of love for the divine commandments and refers to verse 9 of the 19th Psalm: "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes."
The Spice Box: The incense burner used in Bible times is symbolized by the spice box called “Besamim.” This box varies in construction and ornaments. The purpose of its use is that the fragrance of the departing Shabbat should linger long after the Shabbat is over. After the blessing over wine, with the spice-box in one hand and the wine cup in the other hand, praise and thanks are offered for the beauty and fragrance of the Shabbat:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha’olam, boreh minei besamim.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates various kinds of spices.
The Havdallah Candle: The Havdallah candle is a symbol of light. It is made of different colors and twisted together as a reminder of God's creating the "Lights of Fire," plural, as contained in the blessing. The candlelight calls to mind the fact that light was brought into existence at the beginning of the week. Just as it is the duty of the mother to bring in the Shabbat with light, so it is the duty of the father to usher out the Shabbat with light. The holding of the candle within the palm, to shield the light, follows the words in the prayer: "between light and darkness." This is done to create the shadow effects of darkness and light at the same time. At the conclusion of the blessing, the candle is extinguished by dipping it in the wine cup:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha’olam, boreh meorei haesh.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the lights of fire.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha’olam, hamavdil bein kadesh lehol bein or lehshech bein Israel laamim bein yom hashvii lesheshet ymei hamaaseh. Baruch Atah Adonai hamavdil bein kadesh lehol.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who makes a distinction between sacred and profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the Seventh Day and the six work days. Blessed are You Lord, who makes a distinction between sacred and profane.
Then everybody burst into song and dancing: Shavuah tov – a good week - and Eliahu HaNavi – Elijah the prophet - are among the songs.
The Havdallah prayers can be said at any time before the end of the third day, Tuesday afternoon - the blessings over the spices and the lights should be omitted - that is because the first three days of the week are a part of the conclusion of the Shabbat, and are called “the succeeding days of the Shabbat,” (the last three days of the week, beginning with Wednesday, are called “the preceding days of the Shabbat”).
Many books were written about Shabbat. One that I personally find to be pure poetry is by Abraham Joshua Heschel, appropriately called, “The Shabbat.” Here are some quotations from it:
“Shabbat is not "a day of rest" in order to gain strength for new efforts — Shabbat is a Goal.”
“Our week does not begin with the Shabbat, it ends with it.”
“Our weekdays are ascending; they precede the Shabbat as their goal. The secular is a preparation for the holy. The days of the week are longing for the Shabbat as our material life is longing for the eternal Shabbat to which it gravitates.”
“Shabbat is the most vital force in Jewish life, in importance to circumcision because both are a covenant between God and Israel."
Now let’s see what the Bible says about Shabbat and how the Messianic community should observe this day.
The first recorded Shabbat observance is in Exodus 16:19-26: “And Moses said, Let no man leave of it (manna) till the morning. However they listened not to Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank; and Moses was angry with them. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating; and when the sun became hot, it melted. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said to them, This is what the Lord has said, Tomorrow is the Shabbat observance, a holy Shabbat to the Lord; bake that which you will bake today, and boil what you will boil today; and that which remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses ordered; and it did not stink, neither was there any worm in it. And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a Shabbat to the Lord; today you shall not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Shabbat, in it there shall be none.”
This event was before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. So one could say that the Shabbat observance preceded all other commandments, except the circumcision, which is not really a commandment but a covenant. But the Shabbat was later included in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:8, the fourth utterance: “Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is the Shabbat of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and Shabbat the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Shabbat day, and made it holy.” And Shabbat is a covenant as well, Exodus 31:16: “Therefore, the sons of Israel shall observe the Shabbat, to celebrate the Shabbat throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant.”
From these passages it is clear that Shabbat is a special day to the Lord, He blessed it and He made it holy, but not only that, He asked the Jewish people to observe and celebrate Shabbat into eternity, into everlasting. And another observation from the Exodus 20 passage, this day is also to be observed by everyone and anyone who is in the household, or the eruv, of the sons of Israel, by extension the sons of Abraham. For the Rabbinical Judaism to employ a “Shabbat Goy” to do the chores that they themselves are not allowed to do, is just as wrong as to do them themselves, because the same Torah says that if they break one commandment, as one stated above, they break them all. “All who have sinned under the Torah will be judged by the Torah,” said the apostle Paul in Romans 2:12.
But how about us, the Messianic Believers? How are we to “keep” this day? Note the word keep is in quotation marks, do we really know what it means? The first thing that comes to mind for many believers is the restriction imposed by the Rabbinical Judaism. But is this what God intended? Is this what Torah-True Judaism teaches? Could it be that the negative connotation that we give to the word “keep” makes us think of that? I think a better translation would be “observe,” it has a positive connotation. On the one hand we claim that we are the sons – and daughters – of Abraham and we are entitled to the privileges that come with it, and on the other hand we claim that we are not “under” the Torah, but under grace, under the law of Messiah and disregard the writings of the Torah. But do we really know also what this mean, to be “under” the Torah? The Bible says that no one was saved by the works of the Torah but by grace – even Moses, then what is the role of the Torah? Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:24: “Therefore the Torah has become our tutor to lead us to Messiah, that we may be justified by faith.” Are we not subconsciously given to this word, “Torah,” also a negative connotation, when it is of such a vital importance? Apostle Paul says that without Torah one cannot come to know Messiah, we cannot come to salvation, we cannot be justified.
Dr. Fruchtenbaum, one of the leading Messianic teachers, wrote, referring to the Shabbat observance, “this commandment is nowhere repeated in the law of Messiah. That is why the believer has no obligation to keep the Sabbath today.” I am afraid that this is the opinion of many believers today. But, does it make sense? Yeshua asks us, in various ways, to keep nine of the commandments, why not keep all ten? If you break one, you break all, so the reverse should be true, if you try to keep one, try to keep all ten. Why should we not murder, or not steal, or not take God’s name in vain but not “keep,” or observe, the Shabbat? Is it a too Jewish thing to do? Are we ashamed to associate with the Jewish people? I believe Dr. Fruchtenbaum is wrong regarding the Shabbat observance. Yeshua did not need to repeat this commandment because He Himself, being the Lord of Shabbat, observed the Shabbat – He was repeating this “law” by example, by His own actions. And more than that, the Shabbat is a sign of the covenant between God and Israel forever, like circumcision, who is also not included in the Ten Commandments, but it is repeated by example in Yeshua – please read Luke 2:21.
I believe that the Bible is clear, Exodus 31:12-17: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak also to the people of Israel, saying, Truly my Shabbats you shall keep; for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you. You shall keep the Shabbat therefore; for it is holy to you; every one who defiles it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work in it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Shabbat, to observe the Shabbat throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant (this means forever, during the Biblical times, during the Talmudic times, during the New Covenant times, during the Millennium and during the Eternity). It is a sign between Me and the people of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He Shabbat, and was refreshed.”
Do you want to be put to “death” and be cut off from the people of God? In the book “And Life is Changed Forever – Holocaust Childhoods Remembered," one of the authors, Renee Fritz, writes: “The Germans invaded Belgium in May 1940. I just reached my third birthday. Rumors were that Jewish people caught with their children would automatically perish… So, with the assistance of Mme Degelas, I entered a Catholic covenant in 1940. I was three. My name was changed to Suzanne Ledent… I quickly assimilated into my new church life. I became an ardent Catholic convert… When I arrived in the United States… my father insisted that I attend Hebrew school in preparation for my bat mitzvah ceremony. I resisted but was given no choice. I attended the classes, and right after each class I went to church to confess. I did become a bat mitzvah – and went to confession right after.” This poor soul, by a no fault of her own, was cut off from her people for so long that her return to Judaism was long and hard. She did return to her people, but why would anyone want to experience this kind of “death”?
The example that is given to us, the Messianic believers, by the apostle Paul is totally the opposite. He wished so much to be with his people, he cared so much for his brethren in the flesh, the Jews, that he would have given up his salvation in order for them to be saved, for he wrote in Romans 9:2-5: “There is great grief to me and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself be accursed, cut off from Moshiach for the sake of my brethren, my people according to the flesh, who are Bnei Yisroel: theirs is the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants, the Torah, the worship and the promises; theirs are the Patriarchs, and from them came, in so far as His humanity is concerned, the Moshiach.”
Our goal as individuals and as a congregation, as a community, of Messianic believers is to bring the good news to the Jewish people, and the first step in doing that is to observe the Shabbat, “the most vital force in Jewish life.” Without observing the Shabbat, we will always be outsiders, trying to “convert” them to a foreign religion. But what does it mean to observe the Shabbat? It means to worship the Lord on the day that He chose, on the day that He sanctified as
it is explained in Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you restrain your foot because of the Shabbat, from pursuing your own pleasures on My holy day; and call the Shabbat a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable; and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own pleasures, nor speaking of vain matters; Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.” It is a day to put aside all vain preoccupations, the profane - don’t even talk about them - and concentrate on doing the sacred by worshiping the Creator of the universe, and you will be rewarded with peace, joy and the heritage of Jacob. Why Jacob and not Abraham? Because from Jacob came the twelve tribes which formed the Jewish nation. Abraham had Isaac and Ishmael, and Isaac had Jacob and Esau, but Jacob, who later was renamed Israel, is the true father of the Jewish nation and the Jewish heritage.
It means to stop doing your work and do God’s work, like the priests in the Bible time which were doing God’s work on the Shabbat: Numbers 28:1-10: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, This is the offering made by fire which you shall offer to the Lord; two lambs of the first year, without spot, day by day, for a continual burnt offering. One lamb shall you offer in the morning, and the other lamb shall you offer at evening… And on the Shabbat day two lambs of the first year without spot… This is the burnt offering of every Shabbat.”
It does not mean to do nothing, like the Karaites, which are sitting motionless in the dark being afraid to violate their interpretation of God’s requirement of the observance of the Shabbat, or the myriads of restrictions imposed by the Rabbinic Judaism. But it means to be active to do things for the kingdom of God, having a positive observance by the example that Yeshua gave us seeking first mercy and compassion, even driving and making fire for a poor soul who is cold and cannot warm up the stove to even feed himself or herself. This is what it means to keep the Shabbat, to have mercy and compassion.
We have many examples in the Brit Chadashah of what Yeshua did on Shabbat: John 5:16 “And for this reason they were persecuting Yeshua because He was doing these things on the Shabbat. But He answered them, My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” Yeshua, our High Priest, was healing on Shabbat, not only the body but the soul too. Yeshua was persecuted for healing on Shabbat, yet the doctors of our time, much less qualified then Yeshua, are allowed to work for saving an earthly life.
Matthew 11:28 says: “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you shall find rest for your souls.” Learn compassion from Yeshua, be like Him. Continuing in Matthew 12:5: “Have you not read in the Torah that on the Shabbat the priests in the Temple break the Shabbat and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the Temple is here. But if you had known what this means, I desire compassion and not a sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Shabbat.” These are Yeshua’s words. The Shabbat is Yeshua’s day, the Lord’s day.
God did not start a new religion for the Gentiles! Keeping the Shabbat this way is not something new, Yeshua was not doing away with the Torah but interpreted it correctly, because the Tanakh previously stated in Isaiah 58:1-7: “Thus says the Lord, Keep judgment, and do justice; for My Yeshua is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed. Happy is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; who keeps the Shabbat and does not profane it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. Do not let the son of the stranger, who has joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord has completely separated me from his people; nor let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs who keep My Shabbats, and choose the things that please Me, and take hold of My covenant; And to them will I give in My house and within My walls a memorial and a name better than sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants, every one who keeps the Shabbat and does not profane it, and all who hold fast to My covenant; Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." Including the Gentiles.
The mystery of the Brit Chadashah’s ekklesia is revealed right here. Yeshua will come to bring the good news to all peoples who join themselves to the Lord.
And this day did not change and it will never change: Isaiah 66:22: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before Me, says the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain [Jewish]. And it shall be from new moon to new moon [Rosh Chodesh to Rosh Chodesh], and from Shabbat to Shabbat, all flesh will come to worship before Me, says the Lord.”
But why some people say that Sunday is the Lord’s day? I will be hard on this one: because of pagan traditions and ignorance; it may have started as anti-Semitism – even though the term was not coined yet - around the 4th century CE when the council of Nicea decreed that the “Church” should have nothing to do with the Jewish people and practices, but now is plain ignorance.
They take passages out of context and bring them as proof that the believers were gathering now on Sunday and abandoning the Shabbat observance. Passages like John 20:19 “When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews...” What this passage describes is that these Jewish believers were gathering on Shabbat – probably after they have been to the Temple and prayed there - to talk about Yeshua, and that they talked until evening when the Shabbat was over and the first day of the week began – Saturday evening - and when the religious authorities were looking for them to persecute them, so they simply shut the doors. It does not say that the first century believers changed the Shabbat, the Lord’s Day of worship as a community, or as a congregation, to Sunday because they had no concept of that. They were just simply reading the Torah and were so zealous for understanding it that a day was not enough. Keep in mind that the portions of the Tanakh that they had was in the form of scrolls without chapters and verses and they had no concordances and no computer programs and probably many did not even know how to read. Acts: 21:20 says: “and when they [James and the elders] heard it they began glorifying God, and they said to him [Paul], “you see brother, how many myriads [tens of thousands] there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah.” They all were zealous for knowing about Yeshua, the fulfillment of Torah; that is what they were doing behind shot doors. In Acts 20:7 Paul preached till midnight. That was till Saturday night.
Another passage that they bring as proof that the Shabbat was changed to Sunday is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: “Now, concerning the financial contributions for the benefit of the kadoshim [saints], as I directed the kehillot [congregation] of Galatia, so you do also. Every first day of each week, each of you put something aside and save, according to his income, so that collections need not be made when I come.” This passage on the contrary, exemplifies that the Jewish believers were observing the Shabbat, the seventh day of the week. That is because it must be read and understood in the Jewish context in which the Jews were not allowed to carry money on Shabbat – actually was no need to do so because every shop was closed on Saturday – so on the first day of the week, Sunday, they could count the income from the previous week and contribute accordingly. What a wonderful example of a Jewish believer observing the Shabbat.
Another passage is from Revelation 1:10: I [John] was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” How can one conclude that this was Sunday it is beyond my understanding. First of all, it does not say anything about which day of the week it was – some interpret that it was not even a day of the week but an event in the future – and second, John, being a Jewish man, certainly knew what God wrote in the Tanakh of which day was the Lord’s Holy Day – the seventh day of the week, and, being an apostle, it meant that he was a direct eyewitness to Yeshua’s words who said in Matthew 12:8: “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Shabbat," and this Shabbat was not misunderstood for anything else but the seventh day of the week.
But the “Church” brings another argument, Yeshua rose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week, being the first fruit of believers; hence the New Covenant believers should worship on Sunday. Yes, Yeshua was the first fruits of believers to be raised from the dead, but what is that got to do with the first day of the week? Yeshua did not rise from the dead on Sunday. To understand this one needs to read all the resurrection passages in their Jewish context.
Passages like Mark 16:9: “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week” even though this is the only passage which at the first reading may hint of a Sunday resurrection, it does not appear in the earliest manuscripts, it was added later by some scribe which may have tried to repeat an earlier verse through his own understanding, verse 2: “And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.” But even so, this passage is not about the time Yeshua was resurrected, but about the time when the women got to the tomb, at which time He was already risen. Therefore, we have to look at other passages that are clear from the earlier manuscripts. All other passages, Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:1 and John 20:1, do not mention Yeshua’s time of resurrection but the time of the women going to the tomb.
So, for the sake of the argument, let’s look at all these passages.
Matthew 28:1: “Now after Shabbat, as it was about to begin the first of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to look at the grave.” There are two phrases in this passage that define what time of day it was when this event happened. One is, “after Sabbath,” which is at sundown, around six o’clock at the Passover season. The second phrase is: “about to begin.” This phrase in the Greek is only one word, “epiphosko” and it could mean “to begin to dawn,” as many translations have it, because this Greek word is a compound word of "epi" and "phosko." But if we look at the only other instance in which this Greek word appears in the Brit Chadashah we gain the true meaning of the word, Luke 23:54: “And it was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.” “About to begin” is the same Greek word, “epiphosko.” When one considers that the Sabbath begins at sundown, this is the only translation that makes sense, “about to begin” or “about to appear.” Therefore, this verse tells that it was about six o’clock in the evening and Passover was about to begin, which, in the Jewish calendar, is considered the begining of another day. Using same analogy with the verse in Matthew, we could conclude that the Greek word is meant to say that it is about six o’clock in the evening when the light is diminishing and the first day of the week is about to begin, that is, in our culture, Saturday evening. Therefore, the verse in Matthew says that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb immediately after the Shabbat was over, which was around 6pm Saturday afternoon.
Luke 24:1: “But on the first day of the week at early deep, they came to the tomb.” The word “deep” is the Greek word “bathus” – compare it with John 4:11 where we have the same Greek word, “the well is deep.” So this verse can also be translated: “But from the early deep of the first day of the week” and knowing that the Jews reckon the day from sundown to sundown this verse also says that the time of day was Saturday evening, right after Shabbat, at the very beginning of the first day of the week. Luke concurs with Matthew, it was Saturday evening, the beginning of the first day of the week.
John 20:1: “But on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while was yet dark.” This word “early” in Greek is the word “proi” which is an adverb and it is not the same as the word “early" - “orthros” - from Luke, but John ads, “yet dark.” This word “proi” comes from the Greek word “pro” which means “before,” therefore, we could translate John as “before was yet dark,” which again is an indication of the beginning of the first day of the week, Saturday evening, right after Shabbat was over, right when the sun was setting, but before full darkness began.
All these three passages indicate the time at which the women went to the tomb, but not the time when Yeshua was resurrected. These verses indicate that the women hardly could wait for the Shabbat to be over and rush to the tomb to take care of Yeshua's body while was still a bit of light outside. But when they got there Yeshua was already resurrected, which could have been right at the end of Shabbat, Saturday evening.
Therefore, I can present to you a better metaphor than the one with the "first fruits" and the "first day." Yeshua healed many sicknesses on Shabbat but the greatest healing would be to conquer death. All sicknesses would mean nothing if death would not be the outcome, so, wouldn't be fitting for Yeshua to rise from the dead on Shabbat bringing the ultimate healing, life eternal and victory over death? Rising from the dead on Shabbat would have symbolized a return to the original state of creation, bringing an eternal rest, the eternal Shabbat, and life everlasting.
Yeshua went to Synagogue on Shabbat, that was his custom, the disciples too had the custom to go into the synagogue on Shabbat; we should follow in their steps. Put aside all the concerns of this world, the vain and the profane and direct your actions and your thoughts towards the heavenly.
Should we observe the Shabbat in a rabbinical fashion? No, but there are many beautiful and meaningful rabbinical traditions that we can incorporate in our Shabbat celebration, as I briefly described above. We have the freedom in Yeshua to add any of these rabbinical traditions if we know them and understand them fully as not to be a stumbling block to the Jews who see us doing them. Not every tradition is bad, so even if you participate in the Shabbat observances with Jewish friends make it a delight, not a burden, know that Yeshua is the reason for the Shabbat, and, as God commanded, have a rest from your own pleasures and vain pursuits, worship God and have a prayful relation with Him through His work on the cross.
Make Shabbat a family time. Bake Hallah and put on new clothes, turn off those annoying and time robbing gadgets, have dinner together and sing songs and Psalms on Friday night. Also, make it a community time. Get together with other believers Saturday morning and make your Jewish friends jealous – Romans 11:14 “if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them” - for having such happiness and joy incorporating some of their traditions with the Brit Chadashah teachings. “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation” – 1 Corinthians 14:26. Have an Oneg, Davidic dances and make a joyful noise to the Lord. Visit the sick and the elderly, have mercy on the widow and on the orphans, because Yeshua also had mercy on you and saved you from this decaying world and He promised you everlasting life with Him and all believers in a new heaven and a new earth.
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