Over the last 2 months we have been discussing the importance of fully experiencing Shabbat and the various aspects of properly experiencing it. We outlined that their are 4 general categories that encompass the experience and amazing gift that is Shabbat, Honoring Shabbat, Enjoying Shabbat, Remembering Shabbat and finally, Keeping Shabbat. The final category being the one that most people identify with and that most people have a hard time dealing with. The final category is the one most people identify with “restrictions” and while this is true on the surface, the act of ‘keeping Shabbat’ does require that a person abstain from doing various actions, on a deeper level these ‘restrictions’ are what make up the very essence and secret of Shabbat’s special power for the Jewish people and their Heritage. Asher Ginsburg (Ahad Ha’am), the founder of Cultural Zionism said it best, “More than the people of Israel have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the people of Israel.” What was meant by this statement is that although keeping Shabbat may appear at face value to be a list of restrictions, it is in reality a much deeper and powerful thing which allows us to fully appreciate and enjoy the awesomeness of Shabbat. We don’t keep the restrictions, they keep us.
This mission is going to be a little different than the missions we have had in the past, because properly keeping Shabbat and internalize its amazing power can be a lifelong pursuit. Learning new things and understanding all the rules takes study, focus and thought. But we always need to start somewhere, so I am going to try and give a brief introduction and try to refer you to some resource to start and continue this journey.
The Torah tells us (Exodus 20:9), “וְיוֹם, הַשְּׁבִיעִי–שַׁבָּת, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה כָל-מְלָאכָה – and the seventh day is a day when you should stop for God, do not do any melacha.” In order to understand what is meant here, we must have a proper definition of the word melacha, which is generally and incorrectly translated as ‘work’. The word melacha refers to a specific type of creative action, these actions are identical with the actions that they Jewish people accomplished in the construction and maintenance of the Tabernacle in the desert and are outlined for us in the Torah. This inherent link between Shabbat and the Tabernacle is very telling as to the special power of Shabbat to act as a connector between the Jewish people and God and to bring the Jewish people together as a united group. There are 39 categories of melacha that are outlined in the Torah and enumerated by our ancient sages, I will not list them here, but they are the basis for everything when it comes to keeping Shabbat. Based on these 39 broad categories their are many sub-categories that exist. I would recommend getting a copy of the book The Sabbath: A Guide to Its Understanding and Observance, by Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld as a starting point. It is a great book and is very short (under 100 pages) but manages to pack a whole lot of important details into that small space. If anyone is interested in borrowing a copy, comment below. For the more advanced reader I would recommend The 39 Melochos: An Elucidation of the 39 Melochos from Concept to Practical Application, by Rabbi Dovid Ribiat, it is a massive 4 volume set and is probably the most comprehensive and complete as well as well footnoted book on the subject that exist in English.
So, today’s Jewish mission is to try to start the journey or learning about and trying to keep Shabbat. This Shabbat and in the future, try your best not break the, so called, restrictions of Shabbat and try to learn as much as you can!