כור את־יום השבת לקדשו׃ Or as it is said in the King James version, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” This phrase has shaped and lead to many of the deepest divisions and conflicts within the umbrella of Judaeo-Christian or as the Muslims say Bookish people. Even the Muslims themselves, as well as the Druze and Samaritans are affected. Remember the Sabbath. Keep it holy. These simple words weigh on people more than the injunctions against blasphemy or murder. But have any of the parties to this debate actually parsed the words well enough to form such divisive and rigid doctrines?
This is a command in two parts. The first seems plain enough. Remember the Sabbath, Shabbat, Shabbas to the Ashkenazi (Kenites?) among us, seems to be a reminder to honor and practice the Sabbath. That’s Saturday on the English calendar, right? Simple enough. But how do we practice it?
But wait. Most Christians tell us that the Sabbath is Sunday. Sunday? Saturday? Which is it?
Genesis tells us that God worked an elaborate week of creation and on the seventh day he rested. This is linked in scripture to the Sabbath in no uncertain terms. Thus Sabbath is the Seventh Day of the week. “Aha!” say the Adventists and others. Here is the answer Sabbath is Seventh and therefore Saturday. Jews and Adventists and even wildly heretical sects then seize on this and proclaim a day of study and worship. Church attendance and Hebrew Schul. Assemble yourselves and pray and fast and do the work of studying the Scriptures–
But wait! The Muslims interject at this point stating unequivocally that the Calendar, even the text of the Holy Book–the Bible, Injeel, Tanakh, Scripture, etc.–has been altered and the true day for study and prayer, fasting and abstinence is Friday. This just gets more controversial.
But let’s look at the greatest model of all. The one part of scripture these disparate groups tend to agree on. The first creation outline, the chiasm of Breshiit/Genesis. On the seventh day–we’ve established that is the Sabbath–God rested. Now the one unassailable ensample for the Mosaic monotheist is the Theos himself. God rested. God did not study, fast, pray or recite, sing, abstain or indulge, travel, or gather with his chosen companion, Adam. God rested. He halted his work and enjoyed the afterglow of relaxation.
This is where the divisions come from. The nature of the Sabbath has been forgotten. Supplanted by man made ideas of devotion, we have lost the memory of the Sabbath. We do not as a people, or as peoples if you insist, Remember the Sabbath. We fight with our kids and spouses, getting ourselves dressed to impress and marching or riding to an edifice of some sort the fellowship with peers and be seen to pray and worship and declaim our knowledge of scripture and our studious hearing–the effort and work we put into the Sabbath is appalling.
So, then let’s look again at the meaning of the word. Sabbath seems to derive from a little hebrew verb sabat, to halt. So proper observance is the stop, not work, not go, not study, just rest. Very un like the Jewish or Christian view. The Christians and Muslims even changed the Sabbath to Friday or Sunday so they could keep their work day named Sabbath, and no greater forgetting of the Sabbath could exist.
What of the second part of the commandment. Keep it Holy. Well what better proof one should be busy about Godly pursuits. Except Holy means set apart, kept separate, or set aside. That makes sense when one thinks of the Sabbath as a rest day. So Remember the Rest Day and keep it set aside. Now that makes sense. It even solves most of the divisive arguments. Yes Virginia, the Sabbath is Saturday–the seventh day–and you can have your prayer day on Sunday or on Friday as you see fit. But wait. What of the Rabbinical Jew. He’s still stuck with Friday night and Saturday till sunset.
I remember a local Synnogogue–Shul to some, Temple to the Reform–that had an interesting practice. Every Friday night most congregants lit the candles for Sabbath Seder. Every Saturday they were at there place of prayer and the boys–and girls–were at work learning Hebrew and the right way to tie a zitzit. But come 6pm they were all at the China Dynasty having shrimp and pork, the best California Chinese food in the county. It was spontaneous, not planned. But it underlined the issue. After all that work of doing the the Sabbath right they needed a break, a rest. The irony could slice beef.
So what’s a person to do? How can you obey the Law and the prophets and rest as Mosheh commanded? Simple. Mosheh did order a Day of Gathering–a day to come together and bring tithes and lesser sacrifice, to gather it all into the Levitical storehouses. To pray and be judged by Levite. To be taught by the teachers of the Torah. That day, was the First Day of the week. Sunday on the English Calendar. The Sabbath is for candles and rest. For staying home and enjoying your family. For relaxing and play. For enjoying the comforts of your spouse. For halting all work. When the sun sets next Friday. Remember the Sabbath and just–Stop!