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Holy Days


What does Shabbat signify?

Shabbat is an integral part of the Jewish lifestyle. The Hebrew word Shabbat is the name for the seventh day of week and is also the word for "rest".

Shabbat is a sign between God and Israel to show that God makes Israel holy.

Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, "Most assuredly you shall keep my Shabbats: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am Adonai who sanctifies you. You shall therefore keep the Shabbat; for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people."

-Exodus 31:13-14

So I caused them [the elders of Israel, see verse 20:3] to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes, and shown them my ordinances, which if a man do, he shall live in them. Moreover also I gave them my Shabbats, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Adonai who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they didn't walk in my statutes, and they rejected my ordinances, which if a man keep, he shall live in them; and my Shabbats they greatly profaned. Then I said I would pour out my wrath on them in the wilderness, to consume them.

-Ezekiel 20:10-13

Shabbat also commemorates the week of creation (Genesis 2:3, Exodus 20:11, Exodus 31:17).

Shabbat also commemorates the Jewish people's freedom from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). As slaves they had no day of rest.

Exodus 31:16-17 emphasizes that Shabbat is to be kept forever.

What does the Tenach command us to do and not do on Shabbat?

The benefit of resting on Shabbat is mentioned in Exodus 31:15-17 and Mark 2:27.

What does the Tenach say about our attitude on Shabbat?

We should delight in Shabbat!

"If you hold back your foot on Shabbat
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call Shabbat a delight,
Adonai's holy day, worth honoring;
then honor it by not doing your usual things
or pursuing your interests or speaking about them.
If you do, you will find delight in Adonai--
I will make you ride on the heights of the land
and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya'akov (Jacob)"

-Isaiah 58:13-14

This passage poses an interesting problem. How do you rest without "pursuing your interests"?

From the beginning the sages agreed that "your interests" refers to selfish desires; studying scripture is encouraged even if you find it interesting. Other activities appropriate for Shabbat include attending religious services, physical rest and sleep, eating together (with appropriate conversational topics), and caring for other people.

Shabbat raises many questions of priority within the Law of Moses. For example, Jewish male infants are commanded to have circumcisions on their eight day; if this day is a Shabbat, should the doctor violate Shabbat by working and doing the operation? The New Testament records many activities that the Pharisees of Yeshua's time had deemed acceptable on Shabbat even though they could be seen as work: circumcision (John 7:23), caring for people and animals (Luke 13:15), saving and preserving life (Matthew 12:9), and priestly duties at the Temple (Matthew 12:5).

In Matthew 12:5-8 Yeshua compares the disciples who follow him with the priests who serve at the Temple. He calls himself "Lord of Shabbat", saying he has authority to declare people blameless if their calling to follow him requires they work on Shabbat, just as the Temple's priests were blameless for violating Shabbat by working in the Temple. Those whose jobs in the Kingdom of God include helping others rest and worship on Shabbat must themselves be working on Shabbat.

Note that Matthew 12:6 warns us to not let Shabbat become a focus more important to us than Yeshua.

The Pharisees decided to kill Yeshua because he broke their regulations about Shabbat.

Is Shabbat only for the Jewish people?

Gentile Christians have a day of rest on Sunday. This day, which they call "the Lord's Day", is very different from Shabbat.

It is proper that Gentile Christianity has a different day of rest; this preserves Shabbat as a special sign between God and the Jewish people.

The commandment to observe Shabbat is notable as the only one of the ten commandments not repeated in the New Covenant as relevant to Gentile Christians. Shabbat observance is not required in the council decision of Acts 15.

However, Gentiles are welcome to celebrate Shabbat if they wish to do so and God promises they will be blessed:

"And the foreigners who join themselves to Adonai
to serve him, to love the name of Adonai,
and to be his workers,
all who keep Shabbat and do not profane it,
and hold fast to my covenant,
I will bring them to my holy mountain
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all peoples."

-Isaiah 56:6-7

Thus God promises that Gentiles who keep the Shabbat will be "brought to his holy mountain", have "joy in the house of prayer", and find acceptance. In the first century, foreigners who thus join themselves to Adonai to serve him were called "God Fearers" and were not proselytes to Judaism but were welcomed as participants in synagogue life (see Acts 10:1-2).

Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:5-6, which were both written to gentile audiences, restate that observance of Shabbat is optional but part of God's plan and potentially special.

Acts 15:9-10 warns us to not put a yoke of tradition upon people. We should not be judgmental towards people who do not perceive the value in keeping Shabbat.

According to Isaiah 66:23, in the millennial reign all people will observe Shabbat.

How do we keep Shabbat?

There are many appropriate things to do on Shabbat!

We can rest, worship, sing, pray liturgy, praying freely, study, testify, dance, attend synagogue, do outreach work and charitable activity, spend time with family, spend time outside, eat together, and reflect upon what was good from last week. Shabbat is often a day in which God is especially clear in leading us about what to do.

The Orthodox add two other ways to observe Shabbat which are well known in America. They extend the prohibition of lighting a fire in your home to the lighting of any fires—inside the home or not—including electric lights or a car's ignition. Also, the "Sabbath day's journey" became a measure of distance, since walking more than 7/10 mile is prohibited (see Acts 1:12). This led to the creation of a Jewish neighborhood around the synagogue: the original usage of the word "ghetto".