Dr. Yosef Rosen, Jewish Studies Teacher 

For many of us, Shabbat serves as our time of restoration that we can look forward to when we feel depleted during any given Wednesday. Just knowing that Shabbat and its sacred rest will inevitably come, gives us strength to complete the worldly tasks of the week. Summer break offers a similar vista of open-time that students and teachers look forward to during the crunch of finals and the closing weeks of school. But Shabbat is not only something we look forward to; it is also a chance to integrate and reflect on the week that just passed—what did I create this past week? How did I navigate moments of growth? Who supported me to get to where I am today? 

In this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim, Shabbat and one other Jewish value are oddly grouped together as the first items in a long-list of practices and values that enable us to become holy: “You shall each revere your mother and father, and keep my Sabbaths” (Leviticus 19:3). What does Shabbat have to do with the ways children relate to their parents? Before we can answer that question, we must dive deeper into the true message of Shabbat.  

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great mid-twentieth-century Jewish activist and theologian, views Shabbat as the greatest invention of Judaism. Indeed, when we examine the ten commandments, most of the commandments speak of universal values that can be found among other ancient civilizations: honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t believe in other culture’s deities. Shabbat is the exception, the innovation. No other ancient society mandated that all its members refrain from labor from one day of the week and, instead, spend that day in community and devotion to that which cannot be built by human hands. Even in modern times, when Shabbat has become submerged within the secular ethos of “the weekend,” Shabbat still offers something unique: a vision of sacred rest.

Why exactly is Shabbat’s rest sacred? In the first account of the ten commandments (Exodus, 20; compare Deuteronomy 5), we are told that we are to rest on Shabbat because at the dawn of time G-d rested on Shabbat. When G-d recognized that the building-blocks of the cosmos were complete, G-d didn’t just move onto the next big project, G-d rested, and blessed and made that rest holy. This is the summer-break Shabbat: a time of rest after the completion of a labor-intensive project. This type of rest is sacred because it symbolizes completion, because it urges us to look back at our week as the process that got us to where we are now. 

A child’s reverence for their parents is similar. One’s parents are how one got here, they are the work week that leads to the Shabbat of a childhood. As a new parent myself, I experience this every day—the neverending work that it takes to nurture and raise a child is an act of creation, just like the six days of creation. I hope that my child will one day honor that work of love, just like God hopes that we will, one day a week, honor the neverending grace that sustains this vibrant planet. May we be blessed to always draw inner strength from Shabbat and make it a weekly time of sacred rejuvenation and reflection.