The Hebrew word shabbat comes from the Hebrew verb shabat, which literally means “to cease,” or shev which means “sit.” Although shabbat or its anglicized version “Sabbath” is almost universally translated as “rest” or a “period of rest,” a more literal translation would be “ceasing,” with the implication of “ceasing from work.”

Try practicing a day of rest, a purposeful pause in your schedule for reflection and celebration.

the Shabbat in Judaism

Shabbat is a day of celebration as well as one of prayer. According to Rabbinic literature, Jews are commanded by God to keep (passively) and remember (actively) the Shabbat, and these two actions are symbolized by lighting two candles late Friday afternoon (no later than eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday).

Although most Shabbat laws are restrictive, the fourth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus is taken by the Talmud to allude to the positive aspects of the Shabbat. These include:

  • Recitation of kiddush over a cup of kosher wine at the start of the meals in honor of the day in the evening and the morning, emphasizing the holiness of the day.
  • Three joyful meals that minimally include bread (the traditional challah loaves) and meat (according to most traditional views).
  • Torah study
  • Recitation of Havdalah at the conclusion on Saturday night (over a cup of wine, fragrant spices and a candle).

the Sabbath in Christianity

The first Christians were Jews and Proselytes who honored the Sabbath from Friday’s sunset to Saturday’s sunset. This would have continued at least until Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. There is evidence that some Gentile Christians also continued to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath many centuries into the Christian Era. At the same time, a widespread Christian tradition, from early on, was to also meet for worship on the first day of the week, Sunday.

Eastern Orthodox churches distinguish between “the sabbath” (Saturday) and “the Lord’s day” (Sunday), and both continue to play a special role for believers (such as, the church allowing some leniency during fasts on both of them, and having special Bible readings different from those allotted to weekdays), though the Lord’s day with the weekly Liturgy is clearly given more emphasis. Catholics put little emphasis on that distinction and most of them, at least in colloquial language, speak of Sunday as the sabbath. Many Protestants have historically regarded Lord’s DaySabbath, and Sunday as synonymous terms for the Christian day of worship (except in those languages in which the name of the seventh day is literally equivalent to “Sabbath” — such as Spanish, Italian, Russian, Modern Greek, and of course Hebrew). For most Christians the Lord’s Day is distinct from the Sabbath, and some Protestants consider it non-binding for Christians. Relatively few Christians regard the first day observance as entailing all of the ordinances of Jewish Shabbat. A minority of Protestants keep Saturday, the seventh day, as the Lord’s Day and the Christian Sabbath. The Ethiopian Orthodox observe a Saturday Sabbath.

Contemplative Significance

Do you have a tendency to gauge your self-worth on how much work you can cram into your waking hours? Do you feel constantly pulled from one task to the next? Try to take time out for rest, even if for just an hour to start with. A Sabbath day is not a day of preparation for the next week’s work, but a full rest, acknowledging completion and peace–a practice of simple enjoyment and thanksgiving.

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