One of the preparatory prayers preceding the recitation of the Shema in the Shabbat morning service, begins,
To God who rested from all works, and on the seventh day ascended and sat on His throne of glory. He robed the day of rest in glory and call the Sabbath day a delight. This is the praise of the seventh day, that on it God rested from all His work.*
The prayer flows naturally onto Psalm 92, the “song for the Sabbath day.” However, as it happens on occasion, one day my eyes drifted down to a commentary on the Sabbath at the bottom of the page. Rabbi Sacks ז״ל, noted,
Shabbat is a unique institution. The year is determined by the sun, the month by the phases of the moon, but there is no Shabbat in nature: nothing that corresponds to the seven-day cycle of work and rest, creation and cessation, doing and being.**
In this week’s reading Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11-34:25,*** HaShem affirms the importance and everlasting quality of the Sabbath when He had Moses proclaim to the children of Israel
“Surely you must keep My Shabbatot, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so you may know that I am ADONAI who sanctifies you. Therefore, you are to keep the Shabbat, because it is holy for you. … It is a sign between Me and Bnei-Yisrael forever, for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.”Exodus 31:13-14 & 17
Two times in these three verses the Sabbath is called a sign between HaShem and the people of Israel. In other words, Shabbat is a unique institution that has become a sign for all time for a unique people, Israel.
While it would be easy at this point to take off on a side trail trying to determine what it means to “keep the Shabbat,” I will avoid that side trail and stick to the command itself. Consider these words of HaShem through prophet Isaiah,
“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
There are two important aspects in Isaiah’s words. First, the focus during Shabbat is to be upon the Lord and not one’s ownself-interests. Second, the result of following this admonition is the exultation and care of HaShem— “I will let you ride over the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.” Why is “riding over the heights” significant? The psalmist states, “ADONAI is high above all nations, His glory is above the heavens” (Psalms 113:14). So, riding the heights is synonymous with being in the presence of HaShem, and while in his presence, we are sanctified by him (Exodus 31:13).
Even though the keeping, observing or honoring, the Sabbath has become burdensome with an exorbitant number rules and regulations, it was never meant to be a chore; the “keeping” is intended to provide a doorway into the presence of the Almighty, much like the time in the Garden when HaShem walked with Adam and Chavah (Eve). Continuing with Rabbi Sack’s commentary I mentioned at the beginning, He states,
The Sages say that the creation of the first man and woman, their sin, and their sentence to exile from the Garden of Eden all took place on the sixth day. Out of compassion, God allowed them to stay one full day in the Garden: the seventh day. Thus, the Shabbat is as close as we come to Paradise regained.
With this in mind, Yeshua’s words, “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat” (Mark 2.27) makes much more sense. Yeshua was not doing away with Sabbath observance, rather, He was placing it back in its proper order. Sabbath observance serves to bring one from the normal six days of the workweek, into the presence and thereby rest of the Almighty.
Yeshua told his talmidim, and by inference each of us, to “Come away by yourselves to an isolated place and rest awhile” (Mark 6.31). Sometimes, as with the talmidim, our hectic daily schedules beg for a brief time of rest apart with HaShem to be refreshed and rejuvenated. They, and we, can come into a place of rest any time there is a need. However, this does not detract from the actual 7th day Sabbath rest, that weekly time refreshing and renewal that is ours as we make a habit to “keep the Sabbath.”
Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!
* Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. The Koren Siddur. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009. p 462.
** Ibid. p 462.
*** Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.