From the Archive
The first time Shabbat is mentioned in the scripture is at the culmination of the six days of creation: " And the heavens and the earth were completed and all their host. And God completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did. And God blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it, for thereon He abstained from all His work that God created to do" (Genesis, 2, 1-3)
These verses contain three central themes: resting, blessing, sanctity. The day of Shabbat is not merely a day of rest, yet it also entails hollowness and blessing. It is a day of an additional soul and the capacity of man to elevate himself above the six days of the week. It provides an opportunity for man to dedicate time to himself and to engage in soul searching.
Shabbat shows up in in the fourth of ten commandments. In the common version that appears in the Book of Exodus it is written: "but the seventh day is a Shabbat to the G-d your Lord; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your beast, nor your stranger who is in your cities. For [in] six days G-d made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, G-d blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it. (Exodus 20: 8-10). Here the reason giving for the day of rest, as in the Book of Genesis, is the completion of the work of creation. Just as the Lord rested at the completion of creation so does man rest: "you and your son and your manservant and your maidservant and your beast nor your stranger that's in your gate". Every man by virtue of being human needs a day of rest, of respite.
In the version of the Ten Commandments that shows up the Book of Deuteronomy reads: "Six days may you work, and perform all your labor, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your ox, your donkey, any of your livestock, nor the stranger who is within your cities, in order that your manservant and your maidservant may rest like you. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God took you out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord, your God, commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy, 5, 12-14). In this version the reason given for rest differs: you must remember that also you were a servant in the land of Egypt. In other words, it is based on social – equality. In the Shulchan Aruch and in all sources, there are endless prohibitions pertaining to work on Shabbat. As Moshe claims: "And you shall guard the Shabbat since it is holy for you; those who desecrate it shall be put to death since the soul of whoever does any work on it, shall be cut off from its people." (Exodus, 31, 14)
And it has been written in the Tractate of Chagiga, Chapter 1, Mishna 8, "They are like mountains hanging on a hair". Succinct scriptures and multitudes of laws -and this refers to Shabbat as well. There are two tractates dedicated to Shabbat in the Talmud: The Tractate Shabbat and the Tractate Eruvin.
> The Story
When the Roman historian Tacitus in the first century to the common era wrote about the antiquity of the Jews and their attributes, he made mention of Shabbat, stating: "Some say they resolved to spend the entire seventh day in rest since the day brought an end to their toil. Then their hearts opened to laziness to the extent that they assigned idleness also to the seventh year..." (the Sabbatical year)
Is it possible that what we feel is one of the most wonderful gifts the Jewish nation granted to humanity – the Shabbat as a day of rest – brought about such a great degree of mockery by Tacitus and other thinkers of Greece and Rome?
I believe the reason for this stems from the definition of Shabbat in the Ten Commandments as they appear in the Book of Exodus in Chapter 20:
"Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it. [...] you shall not do any work, - you, your son, or your daughter, your man-servant or your maid-servant, or your cattle or the stranger within your gates."
A society that was based on the work of servants every day, from morning to night, from the beginning of the week and the months until their respective ends and from the beginning of the year until its end, with no interval, does not accept the idea that all human beings whoever they may be, both free men and slaves, men, women and foreigners are entitled to a day of freedom and rest and to abstain from work once every six days. In the ancient world, a declaration such as the one about Shabbat in the Ten Commandments is powerful being revolutionary and precedent-setting.
Even our sages were alert to the feelings of the world nations in regard to the theme of Shabbat and holidays. In an amazing Midrash of our sages on the Scroll of Esther, Haman tries to convince Achashverosh to destroy the Jewish nation and one of his arguments are: "And they do not fulfil the king's words, that they do away with by claiming all year long 'it is Shabbat today it is Passover today'. If a Jew would be asked to take part in anything they would say: "It is Shabbat today and we do not do the tasks of the king'. In other words, sages of those days perceived what was occurring then: the hatred and mockery of the nations towards the Shabbat and the holidays.
> In Zionism
Indeed it is doubtless that throughout the years of exile Shabbat and the holidays are what contributed more than anything else to guard and sustain the life of the Jewish nation, as Rabbi Yehuda Halevi had mentioned in his famous Kuzari book: "When contemplating your situation, I realized that the Lord had a secret reason for your perpetuation and that the Lord positioned the Shabbats and holidays among the mighty reasons for the preservation of your image and character, since the nations would divide you up among them and capture you as slaves, due to your wisdom and fineness of mind, and they would assign you to be warriors if not for those dates that you faithfully guard , being that they are sacred days given to you by the Lord and since their reasons are so important being they are remembrances for the acts of creation, and remembrances for the exodus of Egypt, and – for the giving of the Torah, all these are G-dly matters that you were commanded to recall always and if not for these days none of you would wear clean garments and you wouldn't convene together to read your Torah, due to the state of despondence brought about by the length of the period of your subjugation and if not for them, you wouldn't have enjoyed even a single day throughout your entire lifetimes. Now though, you are able to spend a sixth of your lifetime in restfulness of body and soul"(Third essay pp. 104-105)
When the pioneers returned to Israel and abandoned the Jewish lifestyle of the Diaspora, Shabbat was altered from a holy day to primarily a day of rest. Many times, in the pressure of work and the busy agricultural seasons at the era of early settlements, Shabbat was utilized as a day of work as well.
There is an interesting letter sent by the poet, C.N. Bialik to a friend in the Ginegar Kibbutz, condemning the work done on Shabbat. Also, in Tel Aviv as well as in other cities, there are ongoing arguments regarding opening shops and supermarkets on Shabbat. In areas out of cities many shopping malls began to open on Shabbat and lots of civilians
turned the day of rest into a day of entertainment, shopping and commerce. This resulted in a social situation by which a significant amount of the Israeli work power was employed on Shabbat and forfeited the day of rest they were entitled to. This is a heavy price to be paid by a large number of disadvantaged employees for such a type of entertainment on Shabbat.
Following struggles, in the early years of the establishment of the state, there were coffee shops, restaurants, cinemas and pubs that opened on Shabbat. Although there was a general sense of a Sabbatical, there were quite a few cultural and entertainment centers opened. In cities like Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Safed, Shabbat is observed according to tradition. This is definitely one of the issues that warrant a discussion by the Israeli society.