Yesterday was Saturday, the last day of the week, and for those following Judaism (or some Christian denominations), it was the Sabbath. For me, it was a much needed day of rest as I had a Covid vaccine booster on Friday that left me feeling like an actual dumpster fire. Or maybe some filthy garbage water that leaked out the rusty cracks in said blazing dumpster. Whatever. I only left the bed to bathe and use the toilet. Otherwise, I feverishly half slept the day away while Z played Roblox next to me.
All that resting had me thinking about a recent piece Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (my fav Rabbi 🙂 wrote on her Substack about keeping the Sabbath.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of God your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements.
For in six days God made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day; therefore God blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)
There’s a ton going on in here. Let’s start with: What does it mean to “remember” the sabbath day? What are the logistics involved? What is the rationale given? Why?
These questions are heightened in contrast to the other time we see the Ten Commandments, in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses and the Israelites at this point have gotten right up to the edge of the Promised Land, and then Moses is like, “Y’all, forty years is a long time to have been wandering in the desert. Let’s reminisce for a moment, shall we?” It’s sort of a retelling of the events of the Exodus but from a different perspective, with a different set of agendas. (Don’t worry. We’ll get there.) ANYWAY.
When we get to the part where Moses tells the now next-generation Israelites–remember, this is forty years since the actual Exodus–about getting the Ten Commandments, there are some slight differences in the new version. For example!
Guard the sabbath day and keep it holy, as God your God has commanded you.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of God your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female servants, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female servants may rest as you do.
Remember that you were enslaved in the land of Egypt and God your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore God your God has commanded you to guard the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
OK, so here we have “Guard” instead of “remember,” Shabbat. (Shamor could also be translated as “preserve” or “observe,” and often is in this context, but I’m going with a hyper-literal translation for reasons you’ll see in a moment.)
We have the same injunction against working and the same clarification that that’s not just you–the listener–but your kids, and your workers, and the stranger in your settlements, and even your animals. Everybody in the household rests, that’s the same.
But the rationale is totally different. In Exodus, the reason for Shabbat is the Creation story: God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. So too, must we rest on the seventh day.
In Deuteronomy, the rationale is the Exodus: God freed us from enslavement, and thus commanded us to rest on Shabbat. Very different.
I never noticed this difference. And tbh, I probably never would’ve. This is why I’ve been so taken by getting a Jewish viewpoint on the Torah. Sure, we Christians have these books as part of our Bible, but they’re usually read through the lens of Christianity, the New Testament, and Jesus. This is, of course, totally understandable. But it has left me wanting (needing?) to know how these verses could be received as stand-alone Scripture. Back to Rabbi Ruttenberg:
OK, let’s start with “guard” vs. “remember.” In Judaism, anyway, this is a pretty big deal. First, we have to deal with the question: wait, which of those was the version given in the actual Ten Commandments? Because that only happened, like, once.
The Rabbis conclude that the answer is: both, and it was a powerful mystical experience in which both words (guard and remember) were spoken simultaneously, and perceived by the Israelites as a single utterance. (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 20:8:1).
The Rabbis then decide that “guard” refers to all of the commandments of Shabbat that we call negative mitzvot, the “don’t do’s,” aka all the ways that traditionally observant Jews refrain from what we define as “work” in order to create that unique Shabbat experience, what Heschel famously referred to as a “sanctuary in time.”
Not cooking. Not writing. Not lighting fire. Neither creating nor destroying. (The 39 categories of prohibited labor listed in the Mishnah—from which other Shabbat prohibitions are derived—are said to be taken from the labor required to create the Tabernacle.) Allowing the world to exist, as it is, and simply dwelling in it, rather than trying to influence it, for a minute.
Allowing the world to exist without trying to influence it. Whoa.
That’s guarding—guarding the fragile preciousness of this time, knowing that if we do certain things in this space, it won’t feel like Shabbat anymore. Holding space.
“Remember” became connected to all the positive mitzvot, the ways we’re meant to actively celebrate the gift that is Shabbat–the active work of preserving the consciousness of Shabbat week after week. Lighting candles to begin Shabbat. Special songs and prayers. Saying the blessings of sanctification over wine. Blessings over challah. Shabbat meals, with a particular enjoyment (evoking Isaiah 58:13’s reminder that Shabbat should be an oneg, a delight), marking the end of Shabbat with the ritual of wine, spices and fire, and other such things. Making Shabbat not just set apart (as guarding does), but significant.
Okay, so yesterday I was recovering, but not resting, not like that. But I want to excerpt just a bit more, that, as a disabled Black woman, really touched my heart:
A Shabbat practice is critical in an exploitative culture, a way of learning how to exist as someone whose worth is not based on what one produces or makes or does, who one pleases or serves.
To have a day a week– a regular practice–just to be.
To not create or destroy. The world has already been created. Now we, created in the divine image, are merely to dwell in it. To experience our space as an Eden. It is a day to begin to unlearn exploitative concepts, to learn how to see ourselves, and others, in the fullness of our and their humanity, not in a transactional way. To remember that everyone’s value–including our own–as inherent, doesn’t have to be earned–that simply existing in the world is enough.
And as part of that, Shabbat is about learning to be in the present moment, to focus on the now.. Merely leaning back and enjoying the created world as it already exists.
So, my goal, especially during Lent, is to begin a practice of true, restorative rest. Read the post in its entirety here.