Shabbat (שַׁבָּת) is the Hebrew word for Sabbath; along with the annual Yom Kippur (יוֹם כִּפּוּר), the weekly Sabbath is considered the holiest day of the year in Judaism.
The Sabbath is one of the best known and least understood of all Jewish observances… to those who observe Shabbat, it is a precious gift from G-d, a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits. In Jewish literature, poetry and music, Shabbat is described as a bride or queen, as in the popular Shabbat hymn Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah (Come, my beloved, to meet the [Sabbath] bride). It is said “more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel.”
Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. It is the only ritual observance instituted in the Ten Commandments….Shabbat is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment. The word “Shabbat” comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, meaning to rest.
…In modern America, we take the five-day work-week so much for granted that we forget what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times. The weekly day of rest has no parallel in any other ancient civilization. In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or laboring classes. In addition, the very idea of rest each week was unimaginable. The Greeks thought Jews were lazy because we insisted on having a “holiday” every seventh day.
Shabbat involves two interrelated commandments: to remember (zakhor) Shabbat, and to observe (shamor) Shabbat.
Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it (Zakhor et yom ha-Shabbat l’kad’sho) -Exodus 20:8
Observe the Sabbath day to sanctify it (Shamor et yom ha-Shabbat l’kad’sho) -Deuteronomy 5:12
Shabbat, from Judaism 101
In the Bible
An Island in Time
There are thirty-nine categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat. They know as the ל״ט אבות מלאכות, lamed tet avot melakhot.
Moses gathers the people and tells them to do God’s work building a tabernacle. But they are not to work on the Sabbath. Does this mean that even work for God is not permitted on the Sabbath? What does that tell us about the depth of the holiness of the Sabbath? The Hebrew word for forbidden work is melacha. The Torah uses the term melacha in three different contexts. First, melacha refers to God’s work in creating the heavens and the earth. Second, melacha refers to the human tasks involved in building the mishkan, the portable tabernacle that the Israelites carried through the desert. These included most of the fundamental tasks we humans do to show our mastery of the universe: growing plants for both food and dyes, spinning and making cloth, building, metalwork, writing and drawing, and of course, using fire. Third, melacha refers to those acts forbidden on Sabbath, from sundown Friday night until nightfall Saturday night. What is the relationship between these three uses of the word melacha? The rabbis of the Talmud counted 39 categories of forbidden work. These were precisely the activities that were done in building the tabernacle. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that by avoiding these creative activities on the Sabbath, we are building a tabernacle today — a tabernacle in time.
– Rabbi Michael Gold, USCJ Torah Sparks, March 25, 2006 – 25 Adar 5766
The 39 Melakhot
from the Soc.Culture.Jewish FAQ Question 7.5:
Most people hear that Jews cannot “work” on Shabbat, and think of the English sense: physical labor, employment, jobs. Under this definition, tearing, opening the refrigerator, cooking, etc. would be permitted, but a Rabbi leading a service would not be permitted. However, Jewish law prohibits the former and permits the latter. This is because traditional Judaism does not prohibit “work” – rather, the Torah prohibits “melachah.”
Melachah generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment. The best example of melachah is the work of creating the universe, which G-d ceased from on the seventh day (and is a reason we observe Shabbat). Just as G-d rested from the work of creation, so we too rest on shabbat from creation.
The word melachah is rarely used in the Torah outside of the context of Shabbat and holy day restrictions. The only other repeated use of the word is in the discussion of the building of the sanctuary and its vessels in the wilderness (Exodus 31:35-38). Notably, the Shabbat restrictions are reiterated during this discussion (Ex. 31:13), thus we can infer that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped for Shabbat. From this, the rabbis concluded that the work prohibited on Shabbat is the same as the work of creating the sanctuary. They found 39 categories of forbidden acts, all of which are types of work that were needed to build the sanctuary:
Making two loops 19.
Weaving two threads
Separating two threads
Sewing two stitches
Cutting hide up
Writing two letters
Erasing two letters
Tearing a building down
Extinguishing a fire
Kindling a fire
Hitting with a hammer
Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain. (Mishnah Shabbat, 7:2)
These tasks are prohibited on Shabbat… In addition, the rabbis have prohibited coming into contact with any implement that could be used for one of the above purposes (for example, you may not touch a hammer or a pencil), travel, buying and selling, and other weekday tasks that would interfere with the spirit of Shabbat.
…They are related to the 39 activities required to construct the Tabernacle. This connection is implied by the juxtaposition of the two topics — Shabbos work and building the Tabernacle — in the book of Exodus, as well as the fact that both speak of “melachah” or “meleches avodah”
Shabbat, from the Soc.Culture.Jewish FAQ