The Weight of Shabbat

By proclaiming and celebrating the Sabbath, we are testifying to God’s oneness.


Sabbath, TorahJun 16, 2016

SabbathJun 16, 2016


Shabbat candles, a challah, and a cup of kiddush wine — elements for remembering the essence of the weekly Sabbath. (Image © Bigstock)

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Yeshua taught that the weighty matters of the Torah are justice, kindness, and faith. But the commandment to keep Shabbat was given at Mount Sinai amidst fire, smoke, and the booming voice of God. The sages even say that keeping Shabbat is equal to all of the commandments. Is this a weighty commandment or not?

In the Ten Commandments, the Torah says, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work” (Exodus 20:9). One sentence, with the emphasis on different words, can mean vastly different things: I didn’t eat your doughnut. I didn’t eat your doughnut. I didn’t eat your doughnut. I didn’t eat your doughnut. I didn’t eat your doughnut.

Are we to take from this that one must do work for each of the six days? Does it mean that any work that you do must happen during those six days? Or does it mean that all of your work has to be done, in other words, you must be finished with your work at the end of those six days?

But consider why we keep Shabbat: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11). Our Shabbat observance is an imitation of God. In what sense did God do all of his labor in six days?

Here is a passage we read every Friday night at our Shabbat table:

Heaven and earth were completed and their entire legion. On the seventh day, God finished his work that he had done, and on the seventh day he ceased from all his work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it he ceased from all his work that God created to make. (Genesis 2:1-3, Vine of David translation from The Sabbath Table)

Based on this passage, in what sense did God perform all his labor in six days? It says that God was finished with all his work at the end of those six days. God rested because there was no more work of creation to do.

Our Sabbath rest is supposed to imitate God. How can we possibly expect to be done with all our work by Friday afternoon? Sometimes it takes longer than a week to do something, and the best we can do is to put it on hold until Shabbat is over.

The revelation at Sinai was not the first exposure that the Israelites had to Shabbat. In the story of the manna, we will find language that closely parallels the commandment at Mount Sinai. After commanding them to bake what they will bake and boil what they will boil,

Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is the Sabbath to the LORD. Today you will not find it in the field. For six days you may gather it, but the seventh day is the Sabbath; it will not be there." (Exodus 16:22-26, Vine of David translation from The Sabbath Table)

Look closely at the parallel between this verse and the Ten Commandments: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.”

Gathering, baking, and boiling manna must be done before Shabbat. But not only must they be done before Shabbat, they must be done in preparation for Shabbat. It would not be sufficient to gather, to bake, and to boil manna for Friday and to leave it at that. If you did that, you still would not have done all your work, because you would not be prepared for Shabbat rest.

This teaches us that the work we do on the six days of labor is not for their sake. Nor do we rest on Shabbat in order to recharge and get back to work. Rather, Shabbat represents the purpose and focus of our lives—all our work during the week is preparation for Shabbat.

According to Exodus 20, keeping the Sabbath is imitating God in his work of creation. In this sense, every week of our lives we re-enact the creation narrative. God rested because the work of creation was done—there was no task left for anyone else to complete. If the text merely told us that God spent six days creating, another religion might claim that their god picked it up from there and created more things. But by resting, he declared his ultimate and exclusive dominance over creation. When we likewise rest, we declare that our God is the only God, the creator of heaven and earth. By proclaiming and celebrating the Sabbath, we are testifying to God’s oneness.

In a way, one might say that if you took the belief in one God and translated it into action, it would be Shabbat. Ultimately, the reason why we work for six days is so that on the seventh day we can rest and proclaim the oneness of our God.

This explains why Shabbat is so weighty. It is the antithesis and rejection of idolatry. It is equal to all the mitzvot because it represents belief in and devotion to God—a principle on which all other commandments ultimately depend. Yeshua said that the weighty matters of the Torah are justice, kindness, and faith—and Shabbat, if it is truly observed by the power of the Spirit of God in our lives, is faith.

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About the Author: Aaron Eby is the Vine of David Director and an author and translator for FFOZ. He was the chief translator of The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels and works to develop liturgical resources that will strengthen Messianic Judaism. More articles by Aaron Eby

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