It is said that when one repeats themselves, it is for special emphasis and the thing being repeated should really be paid attention to – this is especially relevant when it comes to the Scriptures. In last week’s portion, Ki Tisa, we read the reiteration of the Ten Words that Moshe received the second time from HaShem as the cornerstone of His covenant with Bnei Yisrael. Interestingly, one of the items specifically mentioned was to keep the Sabbath, even during times of plowing and harvest (cf. Exodus 34:21). This is interesting because this command looked forward to a time when Israel would be in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is also noteworthy that in this week’s double parasha, Vayak’hel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1 – 40:38,[i] the very first words that Moshe commands the assembled people are
These are the words which ADONAI has commanded you to do. Work is to be done for six days, but the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI. Whoever does any work then will die. (35.1-2)
Twice, in the span of seventeen verses, and on two different occasions, the importance of keeping the Sabbath is proclaimed by HaShem to Moshe, and then immediately by Moshe to the people. Later, in Parashat Emor, the first of the mo’edim (biblical feasts) that Israel is commanded to observe is the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3). Also, the keeping of the Sabbath precedes the construction of the Mishkan. Thus it is inferred that just as the Shabbat was to be kept during seedtime and harvest, it was to be observed during the construction of the Mishkan.
In the introduction to The Sabbath Table, it’s stated that
Even more than it is a day of rest, the Shabbat is a day of holiness. If the purpose of the Sabbath were just to give us one day a week to relax, it wouldn’t matter what day of the week the Sabbath was. But resting on the Sabbath serves a specific purpose of setting it apart as holy, as the Torah says: “Protect the Sabbath to sanctify it” (Deuteronomy 5:12). The elevated sanctity of the Sabbath benefits us far more than a simple day off from work ever could. [ii]
This idea that Shabbat is more than simply rest is an echo of the words stated by Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”[iii]
But the question arises, “how then should we keep the Sabbath?” The Torah states, “In it you shall not do any work—not you, nor your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your cattle, nor the outsider that is within your gates” (Exodus 20.10). The sages then defined “work,” מַלְאָכָה, (melakhah) as those thirty-nine activities that were necessary for the construction of the Mishkan (cf. Mishnah Shabbat 7:2). In his book on the Sabbath, Dayan Dr. Grunfeld summarizes melakhah as “an activity of a constructive nature which makes some significant change in our material environment – significant, that is, in relation to its usefulness for human purposes. … an act that shows man’s mastery over the world…”[iv] In other words, we should not do anything that asserts our own abilities, our intelligence, or our mastery over creation. If this is so, the reason should be clear, creation is not ours, it belongs to HaShem. We are just its caretakers. Our avoidance of work or melakhah once a week, at His command, acknowledges our obedience and submission to Him. Through the prophet Isaiah, ADONAI encouraged Israel
If you turn back your foot from Shabbat, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of ADONAI honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways, not seeking your own pleasure, nor speaking your usual speech, then You will delight yourself in ADONAI, and I will let you ride over the heights of the earth, I will feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of ADONAI has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
We really have no choice if we are going to follow the teachings of Scripture, keeping Shabbat is not an option. In this week’s Besorah reading (Luke 9:18-36) Peter, James, and John are on the mountaintop with Yeshua. As they are about to descend HaShem declares, “This is My Son, the One I have chosen. Listen to Him” (9:35)! One of the things that Yeshua said, to which we should listen is His words to the Pharisees recorded in Mark 2:27, “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat”. I suggest that Yeshua would have found no disagreement Abraham Heschel.
Technical civilization is the product of labor, of man’s exertion of power for the sake of gain, for the sake of producing goods. It begins when man, dissatisfied with what is available in nature, becomes engaged in a struggle with the forces of nature in order to enhance his safety and to increase his comfort. To use the language of the Bible, the task of civilization is to subdue the earth, to have dominion over the beast.[v]
Humankind’s first commandment from the Creator was “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28), and we have been doing that work continually ever sense. But that same Creator designated Shabbat as a time to come apart, cease from our work and be in His presence (Genesis 2:2-3; Hebrews 4:9-10). There are many voices and opinions concerning how to keep the Sabbath as Yeshua-believers. One source I would recommend is the Standards of Observance[vi] which is a work in progress being developed by the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. A slight twist on the bard, instead of “to be or not to be,” concerning Shabbat, we should read “to do or not to do” and then the answer would be just do it!
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] First Fruits of Zion, Inc., The Shabbat Table: Prayers, Blessings, and Songs for the Sabbath, Marshfield, The Vine of David, 2014, p xi.
[iii] Heschel, Abraham Joshua, The Sabbath, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951, p 14.
[iv] Grunfeld, Isador, The Sabbath, A Guide to its understanding and Observance, Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., 1959, p 29.
[v] The Sabbath, p. 27.