by Yeshayahu Heiliczer
The Sabbath is the first mentioned and probably the most important of the "moedim" or G-d-ordained appointed times. Therefore it is extremely important for all Jews, especially a person who is coming back to Judaism and considers himself/herself a "baal teshuvah." to understand the Biblical and Rabbinic rules concerning the honoring of the Sabbath. This article is in no way a complete treatise on the laws of the Sabbath, only a basic understanding.
In the Biblical calendar, a new day starts at the beginning of sunset, and ends at the end of the next sunset, approximately 25 hours later. This is because in the Torah, in the book of Bereshiyt (Genesis) the days of creation are described as "and the evening and the morning were the ___ day." However, "sunset" is not a moment in time, a specific instant which we can look out our window and say has come. Because of the importance of the Sabbath (and other ordained festivals) it is imperative that all preparations and other normal-day activities be complete by the beginning of sunset. The Sabbath then ends at the end of sunset the next day, creating a day of approximately 25 hours. Because of this, the Sabbath candles, marking the end of the workweek (and the last moment that a fire may be kindled in the home) are lit 18 minutes before the "astronomical" sunset, and the havdalah ceremony marking the beginning of the workweek takes place 42 minutes after the next sunset.
CANDLE LIGHTING TIMES
It is a major responsibility for all Jews to honor the Sabbath or festival by lighting candles 18 minutes before sunset. This unique commandment, entrusted to the Jewish woman, is rich with meaning and purpose. In a world so full of darkness the candles lit by Jewish women and girls bring light, joy and holiness. A little light, our sages say, dispels much darkness. It is very important to know the exact candle-lighting time, because we are not allowed, under any circumstances, to kindle these or any other lights after sunset.
Married women should light at least two candles, corresponding to the two commandments of "Remember the Sabbath" (Exodus 20:8) and "Observe the Sabbath" (Deuteronomy 5:12) but single women, and even young girls, light only one (in deference to their mothers).
Specialness of a Sabbath
The Bible states that we are to make the Sabbath a special, holy and unique day. Part of that uniqueness is the command to refrain from "work" during the 25-hours of the Sabbath. The word used in the Bible which is usually translated "work" is "melakha." The Hebrew word melakha means more than just labor. In fact, in order to make the Sabbath holy, one must refrain from any activity which is creative (because G-d rested from His creative activities), or otherwise changes our environment.
The following is a summary of the laws concerning the Sabbath:
1. Sabbath is "Saturday."
The Sabbath is as old as the creation of the world. Gen. 2:2 establishes that the Sabbath as ordained by G-d is on the seventh day of the week, the one which is called in the Gregorian calendar "Saturday."
By the seventh day G-d had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
2. Sabbath is Holy.
Gen. 2:3 Shows G-d's attitude about the Sabbath -- He blessed it, and made it holy - vay'qad·deish -- separated for Him.
And G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
3. Sabbath is Foremost of G-d's Appointed Feasts.
HaShem said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of HaShem, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly...'"
4. Sabbath is for rest and Sacred Assembly.
No work is to be done on the Sabbath. The words used in the Bible which are translated into English as "work" are the Hebrew words kolm'law·khaw meaning "all and any kind of creative 'generative' endeavor, changes to the environment or any object."
There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to HaShem.
Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
5. Preparation and cooking of food prohibited.
These are prime examples of work which is "generative" - i.e., changing something's character. Boiling includes not only bringing a liquid to a boil with food in it, but changing food by pouring boiling water over it. It is also considered cooking to boil the water itself. Baking means not just warming something to make it better to eat, but includes bringing something to a high temperature - high enough to change it. This includes toasting bread, even in an already heated oven or surface.
Each morning everyone gathered as much [manna] as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much-- two omers for each person-- and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, "This is what HaShem commanded: `Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to HaShem. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'" So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. "Eat it today," Moses said, "because today is a Sabbath to HaShem. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any." Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then HaShem said to Moshe, "How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that HaShem has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out." So the people rested on the seventh day.
6. Carrying anything out of a "domain" is prohibited.
"Domain" means your home/property, building/campus, etc. A walled city is considered a single domain. It should be noted that many Jewish communities have established an "eruv," which is a fence which legally establishes the community as a single domain.
Jer. 17: 21
This is what HaShem says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers.
7. Do Not Make (or allow) Others Work.
Besides your not being allowed to work, you are prohibited from doing anything that will make the following people work. You are not to allow any of these to work:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to HaShem your G-d. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as HaShem your G-d has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to HaShem your G-d. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that HaShem your G-d brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. ThereforeHaShem your G-d has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
8. Lighting a fire on the Sabbath is not permitted.
This is understood to mean doing anything on Sabbath which directly or indirectly lights a fire, such as striking a match, lighting a gas stove, adding wood to a fire, changing a thermostat so as to start a gas or oil furnace, etc. Using (turning on and off) electricity or anything electronic is included in this rule.
Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.
9. Penalty for desecrating the Sabbath is death.
It is not totally clear what the modern response should be to requirements of the death penalty for desecrating the Sabbath. Since the Theocracy of Yisrael does not currently exist, the death penalty for desecrating the Sabbath is not possible. However, throughout history the importance of the Sabbath for keeping the Jewish people alive is evident. It is clear that the person can and should be considered as having strayed from the Jewish community. This parallels "must be cut off from his people" as in verse 14.
Say to the Israelites, "You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am HaShem, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to HaShem. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death."
While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then HaShem said to Moshe, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as HaShem commanded Moshe.
THE 39 CATEGORIES
In order to understand the meaning of the Hebrew word melakha, the Sages specified 39 categories of endeavor which are not allowed on the Sabbath (in addition to the direct commands shown above). These are generally thought of as being derived from those tasks which were required in the building of the Holy Temple. It is important to understand that these are general categories. For instance, mowing the lawn could fit into a few of these categories, including plowing, reaping or harvesting.
It should be kept in mind that the main command concerning the Sabbath says to make it "holy." This means that we are to separate and dedicate the entire day to G-d and the study of His holy Torah. This may take some getting used to, but this is the ultimate goal and purpose for G-d's appointed times.
Havdalah is a short ceremony which is usually done in the home after the end of the Sabbath. Its purpose is simple: to mark the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the work week. Because we are not allowed to kindle any sort of light on the Sabbath, the lighting of the special havdalah candle shows that the work week has begun. Although we remember the Sabbath by smelling the spices, we have separated the holy from the worldly and look forward to the next Sabbath rest.
©1997-2001 Yeshayahu Heiliczer