The Sabbath, the Jews, and the World

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The Sabbath, the Jews, and the World


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Opinion & Society

The Importance of the Shabbat

By Eliezer Cohen

It is interesting to note the Sabbath in relationship, not just to the Jews, but to the rest of the world. The day of the Sabbath was one of the things that were created "in the beginning" when G-d created the world. Yet, although the seventh day was created as a day of rest from the very beginning, we do not find that it was a specific commandment to rest on the seventh day until almost two thousand years later when the Ten Commandments were given at Mount Sinai.

The obvious question here is simple. Why did G-d create a day of rest if it were not implemented until such a later time?

In reality, we must note an interesting phenomenon in our ever shrinking planet. Although many cultures have lived apart, separated by language, land and seas, each has their own holidays and traditions, many with their own calendars, some using the moon based year, such as the Muslim, some using a solar year, each with their various subtle differences. Yet, never has a culture, a tribal group of any sort been discovered that does not base their week upon a seven day interval.

Now if we consider this, why seven? What is magic in the number seven? Could we not function just as easily with a five day week cycle or an eight day cycle? Maybe a ten day weekly cycle! Yet each distinct and sometime culturally opposed national units, located in distant and separated into far corners of the globe all honor the seven day week.

Why is that?

What is magical in the seven day week?

The answer may be as follows:

From the beginning of creation, there was never a denial of the existence of a creator or of his world. Tradition was therefore a seven day week and that the seventh day should be a day of rest. Therefore each nation kept this tradition, each in his own way.

It was only later during the time of the Christians, who decided for what ever reason, to make the first day a day of rest. Then later it was changed by the Muslims to make the sixth day the day of rest. However, it is interesting to note that even the peoples of the far east in China and Japan, who were remote from the main land, also had a seven day week.

It was only later, as mentioned earlier, that the Sabbath was given formally at Mount Sinai, with its various laws was given to the Jews. This sanctified the day and gave it it's special holy character. The Sabbath as we know today is honored by all types of Jews. Each Jew knows that the Sabbath is a holy day, a day of rest.

Why was the Sabbath given with such restrictive rules?

The purpose of the Sabbath was not meant to be a mere day of rest from a laborious week. The real meaning of the Sabbath was to be a day of spiritual inspiration, a day of achieving lofty spiritual levels. The six days of the work week were needed to enable us to reach this lofty spiritual level. The Sabbath was needed to enable us to maintain our spiritual level even while being in the six days of work.

The prohibitions of performing work are not to be viewed as a day of constraint, in which we are bound and forbidden to enjoy ourselves. The various prohibitions really enable us to separate ourselves from the mundane aspects of life and the need to provide ourselves a livelihood.

Once we are able to truly separate ourselves from the ever present demands of the material week, then we are capable of reaching those lofty, but achievable spiritual goals.


from theJanuary1999Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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