The first time that we
encounter the word "holy" in the Bible is in connection with the Shabbat, which
God "makes holy" (Gen. 2:3). One of the things that this "making holy" implies
in this context is setting apart. Here we find a day (which must therefore be a
part of time), set apart or selected from the other days. This setting
apart means that from now on this day will no longer be lived in the same way as
the other days, but will be dedicated to a specific purpose, in this case coming
close to God.
Contrary to what you might
perhaps expect, the "degree of holiness" of the Shabbat day, which recurs every
week, is higher than that of the Jewish festivals. In contrast to the festivals,
which are determined according to the Hebrew calendar and thus are connected to
the monthly and yearly cycles visible in Nature (the lunar and solar cycles),
the Shabbat is independent of any natural cycle and thus of any computation
based on a calendar. It simply recurs every seven days. The weekly cycle
dictated and instituted by the Jewish Shabbat - the use of which has spread
throughout the world - has (in contrast to the day, the month, and the year) no
parallel in the visible world or in the natural law that governs it.
In the same way, the
"creation out of nothing", which according to the testimony of the Bible was
concluded by the Shabbat (Gen.2:1-3), cannot be reconciled with the natural laws
we are familiar with (in this case the law of the conservation of matter). The
independence of the Shabbat day from any discernible natural cycle makes it
clear what a total innovation Judaism introduced into the world: the reference
to a single, unique, spiritual power, lying outside Nature and natural law, but
which still pervades the whole of material existence and takes an active part in
the fate of human beings - the creator of the world and the God of Israel.
In practice the Shabbat is
distinguished from workdays by an extensive ban on work, which is one of
its most salient characteristics (see Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-16). The
limitation on human activity that is achieved by this ban on work is to be felt
everywhere. It is not just oriented towards resting, but makes a substantial
contribution to the holy character of the Shabbat. According to Jewish law (the
Halacha), the ban on work is not a universally observed ban on exerting oneself,
but covers 39 precisely defined work activities, which do not all necessarily
involve some form of exertion (see Mishna Shabbat 7:2).
According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (born 1808 in Hamburg, died 1888 in
Frankfurt), most of these work activities - which include lighting a fire,
building, dyeing, sewing, and writing - have one feature in common: they confer
on human beings dominance over Nature. This was indeed expressly bestowed on
humans by God (Gen. 1:28). On the Shabbat, however, they should voluntarily
renounce this, so that their ability to dominate the earth does not go to their
heads. Once every seven days, therefore, on the Shabbat, they should refrain
from all those work activities that confer on them this dominance over Nature,
so as to be able to direct their hearts towards the true ruler of the world,
free of all false pride and arrogance.
Three festive meals should
be taken on the Shabbat, one in the evening and two during the day. The fact
that a meal can be a commandment, that someone who enjoys a meal can thus also
be fulfilling a commandment, is characteristic of Judaism. Enjoyment, at the
right time and in the right place, can not only be permitted or recommended, but
even commanded and thus be meritorious.
Before the first two meals,
a Kidush (literally "making holy") is spoken over a full cup of wine. The
Kidush makes the Shabbat holy by assigning its special purpose to it, which
makes it different from the other days. It is a rule that the Kidush should be
spoken where the meal is taken. In this way the "making holy" is placed in the
midst of the normal material existence of human beings, for in the Jewish
understanding it is only there - and not on distant spiritual heights, that
renounce everyday life - that it can unfold in truth.
May we all soon be blessed
with the "Yom Shekulo Shabbat" ("A day that is fully Shabbat").