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Shabbat is a 25-hour weekly Jewish observance that lasts from just before sundown each Friday until nightfall on Saturday. It is one of Judaism’s most distinct practices, and also one of its most pervasive and enduring gifts. Shabbat is more than just a day off; it is a day of physical and spiritual delights, a day of relaxation and contemplation, a day of family closeness and interpersonal connection. It is a day of togetherness.
Shabbat contains within it the deepest mystical secrets of Judaism, and at the same time, bestows on those who observe it the most pragmatic and immediate gifts. It is “a day of joy, a sanctuary from travails, a foretaste of the perfect world that will someday be attained…”.
The Torah describes Shabbat as the “pinnacle of creation in the universe”, and states that the observance of Shabbat is a reminder of the purpose of the world and man’s own role in creation. Additionally, Shabbat serves as a commemoration of our Exodus from Egypt.
There is a definite framework to Shabbat. From the candle lighting that so serenely ushers it in, and the special Kiddush sanctifying the day, to the hearty companionship of the three meals, and the final, moving moments of havdalah, Shabbat involves a number of carefully choreographed practices that enable an immersion in its deep spiritual and emotional energies.
Shabbat observance is centred on the home. The entire family helps in preparing for Shabbat. Shabbat meals are an incredible opportunity to celebrate with family and guests, and of course, to enjoy some good home cooking!
In the community
Shabbat observance in the public sphere centres on the synagogue. The entire community welcomes Shabbat with the lively Kabbalat Shabbat service. The prayer services are enhanced with special melodies and the familiar prayers are supplemented with beautifully poetic passages of praise for the Divine gift of Shabbat. On Saturday morning, the weekly Torah portion is read, along with a segment from the Prophets. Finally, the community bids farewell to Shabbat in a soulful ceremony called havdalah.
Shabbat is called the “day of rest” and restricts us from all “work”. Work is not understood in its literal sense. Rather, it applies to “creative labour”. This creative labour is defined exclusively as the actions required by the children of Israel to build the Mishkan, the “Sanctuary” in the desert. There is a list of 39 creative actions that were used in the construction of the Mishkan. These 39 actions form general categories creative labour which we abstain from on Shabbat.
Some common examples of how these categories affect us today include the fact that we cannot cook, switch on or off anything electric, drive a car or water a garden.
There is also a general category of muktze prohibiting us from touching or moving certain things on Shabbat, such as money or mobile phones.
These famous contemporary Jewish thinkers present a colourful and wide-ranging account of the full Shabbat experience:
Enjoying the view
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Thirty-three centuries ago, Moses gave us Shabbos to free us from the tyranny of slavery. Today, Shabbos frees us from the tyranny of tweets and texts and Facebook updates. It frees us from the tyranny of being on call 24/7, it frees us from the tyranny of the consumer society and of the individualism that is damaging families and communities, and it frees us from this crazy frenetic pace of the modern world in which you can be so busy making a living that you hardly have time to live. Shabbat frees us from the rush and pace of a society in which we are so busy rushing from A to B that we never have time to enjoy the view.
A taste of the World to Come
Rabbi Dr Akiva Tatz
Shabbos is described as M’ein Olam Habah – a small degree of the experience of the next world. There is an idea that all spiritual realities have at least one tangible counterpart in the world so that we can experience them: it would be too difficult to relate to the abstract if we could never have any direct experience of it. Sleep is a sixtieth of the death experience; a dream is a sixtieth of prophecy. Shabbos is a sixtieth of the experience of the next world.
Dr Gary Neuman
The gemara relates that all kedusha, all Holiness, comes from Shabbos. When it comes to Shabbos, you can restart your family, you can restart your clock, you can restart your energy. When Shabbos begins, the whole world is starting anew. And you know what happens when the world starts anew? There is unlimited hope and unlimited possibility.
The end of time in the midst of time
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Shabbat is not simply a day of rest. It is an anticipation of ‘the end of history’, the messianic age. On it, we recover the lost harmonies of the Garden of Eden. We do not strive to do; we are content to be. We are not permitted to manipulate the world; instead, we celebrate it as G-d’s supreme work of art. We are not allowed to exercise power or dominance over other human beings, or even domestic animals. Rich and poor inhabit the Sabbath alike, with equal dignity and freedom. Don’t wait till the end of time. Have Utopia now. That is what Shabbat is. A full experience and intimation, a foretaste of the end of time in the midst of time.
Restoring our spiritual lives
Ambassador Yehuda Avner (former advisor and speechwriter to five Israeli prime ministers)
People who do not observe Shabbat often think of it as a day filled with stifling restrictions. I would think it takes a degree of intellectual humility and a sanguine spirit to begin to grasp the inner beauties of this most precious gift to our people.
Keeping us afloat
Prime Minister Menachem Begin
If it were not for this Shabbat that restored the souls and revived the spiritual lives, week by week, of our long-suffering nation, our trials and our tribulations would pull us down to the lowest levels of materialism and moral unintellectual decay.
A spark of holiness which animates time
Rabbi Dr Akiva Tatz
The week is a period of working, building; Shabbos is the cessation of that building, which brings home the significance and sense of achievement that building has generated. Shabbos is the plan and the result. It is the life of the week, the spark of holiness which animates time.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Relationships take time, and Shabbat is when we give them time – to listen to one another, praise each other, share in a meal, sing together, and sense the blessedness of one another’s company. Adam and Eve, said the rabbis, were spared one day in the Garden of Eden before they were exiled into the world of toil. That day was Shabbat. And for those who observe it, Shabbat becomes a way back into Eden, paradise temporarily regained.
Spending Shabbos or enjoying a meal with a Shabbat-observant host family will really allow you to immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere of Shabbos, and help you appreciate its unique warmth and peacefulness. It will also make things easier for you if you are a first-timer or relative Shabbat “novice”.
If you would like to be hosted for a meal or accommodated by a host family during the Shabbat of The Shabbos Project, please fill out the form below and someone will be in touch with you as soon as possible.
Please provide us with as much information as possible to allow us to match you with the most suitable family in your area.
Shabbos Hosts are provided through Shabbat.com. For information please visit www.Shabbat.com
A Shabbos Project coach is someone who will spend time with you, either in person or over the phone, explaining everything you want to know about Shabbat. Feel free to ask your coach anything at all that’s bothered, intrigued or confused you about keeping Shabbat.
They will take you step-by-step through the process, making sure you do things right, and that you are in position to experience the full magic of Shabbos when the big day arrives.
Shabbos Coaches are provided through Partners in Torah and its affiliate organizations. For information please visit www.partnersintorah.org