Shabbat Basics

There might be some of you coming to get a primer on how to practically observe Shabbat and when you find a philosophical conversation about the heart of it you are more than a little overwhelmed.

This is for you. 

Firstly.  What does the Word of God say about Shabbat and how does He wish for us to honor Him during this time?

He gave us an example in Genesis 2:1-3 where he “ceased from His labors and rested”.  It’s that simple.

But you have toddlers and critters who get hungry!  The dishes pile up and you want to pull your hair out because the mess causes such anxiety you can’t rest.

How then?

Exodus 20:6 has an outline.  “Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”

All of it?

Why not?

If you had a special day planned for your family and you knew, beyond all doubt, that you needed to get it done by a certain time so you could enjoy the day with them, wouldn’t you do all your work ahead of time? 

We must not only learn but commit to reorient our lives around the Biblical timeline and not be slaves to the calendar that is dictated by our urgency and our anxiety.

Shabbat starts at sundown on the sixth day so check your weather app to find out when that is.  Then plan your week and days accordingly. Sabbath is NOT a burden but rearranging your life to be different from what has been always your practice CAN be hard.

Don’t confuse the two truths. Sabbath is not hard. Turning the ship around is.

So, now you know when it starts.

Secondly.  You’ve organized yourself and you are as ready as you can be.  The sunsets and NOW WHAT?!?!

Many families will make a special dinner, light candles, bake a twisted/braided egg bread, drink wine or grape juice, and give thanks to YHVH as they pray over one another.  There are ancient Hebrew blessings that offer thanks to the Father for His guidance and provision of the light, the wine, and the bread. All of these actions set the day apart as they begin to celebrate. And it can be lovely. And it can be overwhelming. And it can easily become rote and religious.

What do you HAVE to do?

The command is that the Sabbath, the seventh day, is “a Sabbath unto the Lord” (Exdus 20:10). So it’s not just a day off from toil it is a day that belongs not solely to us but also to Him and He has a specific plan for it.

“You are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Adonai your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Adonai your God has ordered you to keep the day of Shabbat.” Deuteronomy 5:15

Remember your freedom from bondage and accept your privilege to set this day aside for God’s purposes.

A few ideas are as follows:

  • Make the time to study the Word together. 
    • Families and congregations all over the world study the Torah portions on this day.  This is a great resource to help you know what those Scriptures are.
  • Listen to worship music and read inspiring stories/books
  • Slow down and take time to fellowship and engage with one another
  • As YHVH did in the Garden, take the day to enjoy creation

What about all the things? The bread. The wine. The candles. The sayings in Hebrew. 

Are they necessary?

To me, they can be a beautiful and elegant tradition loosely based on some aspect of Temple worship but they are NOT required for the honest observation of Shabbat. That being said, they can be a wonderful way of setting the time apart within the context of the humdrum of the week.

Seated in my clean house around a beautiful table setting, a lovely home-cooked meal steaming, my sparkling glass, and a ruby wine refracting candlelight is a balm to my soul.  Beauty speaks to us and the effort to make our Shabbat time as special as we can is a way we can choose to honor the Father.

However, these things do not make it a more valuable and godly Sabbath than the ones where we crawl to the finish line, crash on the couch, and cry “UNCLE!” from the week that was. 

Our heart’s desire is to honor God and hold His timetable sacred.  Special.  An unmoving cornerstone in our life. 

What is prohibited? What CAN’T you do on Shabbat?  

That is not an easy question to answer in our current world and, as those who do not live in the Land of Israel, it seems there are varying conversations.

The teachings about how to be observant can be fairly lax in a modern reformed synagogue or more western church type environment. And that laxness can be a stark contrast with the extreme legality of orthodoxy that can be as rigid as portioning out your toilet paper ahead of time.

How do I prepare for Shabbat?

In a perfect week, I begin preparing myself for cleaning/food preparation/spiritual insights by Wednesday at the latest.  I do grocery shopping, prepare meals ahead of time, clean the house, and plan the menu for Friday evening.  In an imperfect week, some but not all of those things get done and I am deeply grateful for His grace that can carry me beyond my lack and weakness.

What doesn’t change is whether or not we stop our regular work when the sun goes down. We do. Unless a crisis presents itself.

The purpose of Shabbat is life and you can read about in this article, “Freedom to Rest – Permission to Live“.

On Shabbat, our personal observance is reflective of doing no “ordinary work”.  I don’t clean house, fold clothing, garden, or spend time on secular entertainments.  We will study the Torah portion, perhaps watch or listen to teaching when we aren’t meeting with our community, and rest.  Often lengthy conversations about all kinds of things will organically evolve over coffee because there is no other pressing matter to keep us preoccupied. 

Another aspect of our Sabbath-keeping is to refrain from commerce on Sabbath unless there is an urgent need.  This is, for us, a desire not only to prevent engaging in selfish pursuit but to also not ask someone else to work FOR me on the Sabbath. To not CREATE work for others during our day offered to the Lord.

We have grown, through the years, in our observance and understanding of the Father’s heart in the keeping of His special day.  Things that have become standard for us were once awkward and clunky, painful and overwhelming.  But Abba has been faithful to us.

He will guide you too as you seek to honor Him in His Shabbat.