The Key to Our Relationship with GodOctober 19, 2022 - 12:00 am
The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever… — Exodus 31:16-17
At the very heart of Judaism is the Sabbath — the only ritual ordained in the Ten Commandments. In a world where there are so many distractions, it is imperative to learn about and cherish the one day a week set aside for rest and contemplation, a day Jews call Shabbat. This series of devotions explores the many lessons we can learn from this rich observance.
We may think of Shabbat as just one more ritual law that God commanded Israel, no different from the festivals, Temple offerings, or dietary laws. But look at how the Bible describes Shabbat in the Book of Exodus: “The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever…”
A lasting covenant. A sign between God and the people of Israel forever. Other than the original covenant of circumcision between Abraham and God, no other law is described this way.
Historically speaking, this description of Shabbat has proved true. Every identifying Jew alive today descends from generations of Jews who refused to compromise on Shabbat. And when Jews forsake observance of Shabbat, rarely do their children and grandchildren remain part of the Jewish community.
The Key to Our Relationship with God
But Shabbat is not merely a tool for Jewish survival. As the Bible says, it is a sign between God and the people of Israel. This means that Shabbat is the highest expression of the relationship between God and Israel. How so?
In Genesis, God explains the mission of Abraham as follows: “All nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:18-19).
What does this have to do with Shabbat? Consider the words of Isaiah: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the one who does this— the person who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil’” (Isaiah 56:1-2). (See also, Nehemiah 9:13-14.)
Justice, righteousness, and Shabbat. These prophets teach us that Shabbat is essential for Israel’s mission to bring awareness of God’s values into the world. Shabbat teaches us to live with a constant awareness of God in our lives. This directly leads to a life governed by godly values.
Shabbat is the key to our relationship to God, to our families, to society, and to ourselves.
Your Turn: Discover more about the blessings of the Sabbath with our Limmud study: Shabbat: A Day of Delight.