Jewish tradition notes that Shabbat is to be kept kodesh/holy (Ten Commandments). But in truth, Judaism has little that is inherently holy or sacred. We consecrate and make holy objects and time by setting them apart from the ordinary, the everyday. Consecration then is how we separate those times and things we declare sacred from the mundane and ordinary. A kiddush cup is sacred not because of the words inscribed on it or the grapes and vines decorating it, but by the fact that once it is set aside as Elijah’s Cup at the Seder it will not be used for a mint julep on Kentucky Derby Day.
So with Shabbat. We are to remove ourselves from the usual and ordinary to thus consecrate it. Tradition notes that nothing is to be either created or destroyed on Shabbat. In actual terms, then, nothing that we would do the other days of the week should be done as those days are defined by our work, our appointments, our chauffeuring. In our pluralistic world, we might therefore find meaning by our separation from all those “necessities” that pull us in different directions and make demands on our time.
We can celebrate Shabbat in the traditional manner by removing ourselves literally from the outside world and consecrate Shabbat in study, prayer, and camaraderie. We can also make Shabbat kodesh by deciding what is truly important in our lives, those things from which we are removed by the demands of our school or work, and commit ourselves to those self-fulfilling activities on Shabbat, by separating from the ordinary and accomplishing only those things that are self-defining. Sharing time with family and friends, doing those activities that cannot be done on other days would then be a way of making holy the day. If separating from the usual defines holiness, then what is self-defining would be the type of consecratory act that would make Shabbat truly kodesh.
Typically, Shabbat is a time to reconnect to Hashem and family. The prohibitions of Shabbat are not "You Can'ts" but "You don't need to". It is a time to take extra time in meditation and prayer as well as spend time together with family and friends. It is also an excellent time to catch up on Torah learning.
We spend the whole week looking forward to the next Shabbat.
Shabbat is a litmus test for one's religousness. Bakeries and butchers must be Shabbat observant to be certified kosher. It is understood that keeping Shabbos involves more than 18% of a person's life.
In one sense, there is no such thing as a ďtypicalĒ Shabbat, because different kinds of Jews observe Shabbat differently. Yet, as a Conservative rabbi I can identify for you what I believe a typical traditional Shabbat entails and represents. To begin, the concept of Shabbat and its establishment in law comes right from the Torah (the Bible). Shabbat is mentioned on numerous occasions, including in such prominent places as the narrative of the Creation story as well as being found as a part of Godís revelation to the Israelites in the form of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. What we essentially learn from these passages is that Shabbat was an integral part of the creation of the world and that during Shabbat God demands that we take a break from productivity and creativity, activities in which we are obligated to partake during the week just as God did during the first days of creation. Instead, on these days we are to engage in activities of reflection, appreciation and gratitude for all that God has provided for us. In practice that means that on Shabbat traditionally observant Jews do not: go to work, travel, run errands, create art, write, cook etc. Rather, Shabbat is marked engaging in: family time, prayer, study, shared meals, community interaction and rest. These general concepts and guidelines, over time, have lead to the creation of whole system of laws that try to preserve this core of activities, prohibiting many behaviors related to the former list of categories so as to focus us and allow for the activities that should engage us in the core meaning of the day.
That being said, a traditional Shabbat would begin, in a sense of Friday. During the day on Friday, final preparations are made for Shabbat: any cooking needed to be done to prepare for Shabbat, any shopping, any errands, cleaning, etc. Since Jewish days begin at sundown, Shabbat would be officially welcomed in on Friday evening with the lighting of at least two candles and the recitation of a blessing over those candles. Henceforth, the rules of Shabbat take hold until Saturday night when the new week is ushered in. After, or in conjunction with candle lighting, the Friday evening prayers are recited, characterized by a special Shabbat service called Kabbalat Shabbat, which focuses on the themes of Shabbat and of our appreciation of God and Godís works. Typically, after the evening prayer service individual families and/or friends will gather for a ritual meal, in which family members receive each otherís blessings and during which special blessings are also made over the wine (Kiddush) and Challah (braided bread made especially for Shabbat and Holidays). Typically the next morning people will attend Shabbat synagogue services, have another festive meal for lunch and spend the remainder of the afternoon resting, enjoying family and friends or studying. As the day turns towards evening the Afternoon and Evening prayers are said, often accompanied by a light meal, singing and studying. Shabbat is concluded with a special ceremony called Havdalah, during which we welcome the new week and say good-bye to the Sabbath with all of our senses represented by a special candle, fragrant spices and wine. Details about each of these rituals and commentary about the spiritual meaning of Shabbat are readily available in many sources, including The Sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (philosophical and spiritual meaning) and The Shabbat Seder by Dr. Ron Wolfson (a guide to Shabbat practice in the home). Other helpful websites may include: www.uscj.org and www.jtsa.edu. Answered by: Rabbi Michael Schwab
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