What is Shabbat?

The Jewish Sabbath, otherwise known as Shabbos or Shabbat, is at the heart of Jewish life. Shabbat is a weekly observance that has been kept by Jews for thousands of years.

Millions of Jews continue to keep Shabbat today in our technologically-advanced world. There are also innumerable Jews who grew up without Shabbat, learned about it as adults, and began observing it in adulthood.

Shabbat is often referred to as a “day of rest.” G-d created the world in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. The seventh day is Shabbat.

Common questions about Shabbat:

Q: How long does Shabbat last?

A: Shabbat begins each week on Friday afternoon as the sun sets. It lasts for 25 hours, until 1 hour after sunset on Saturday night. The time Shabbat starts each week depends upon the time of year it is.

Q: What do you do? Do you sleep all day?

A: Shabbat is a structured period of time each week with routines that have been maintained for thousands of years. Eighteen minutes before Shabbat begins, two candles are lit in each home. Special Shabbat prayers are recited together as a community in synagogue on Fridays as the sun sets. Afterwards, everyone heads either to their home or they are invited to each other’s homes for festive dinners. Sometimes later in the evening there are “onegs” [oh-NAYGs] in the community for Jews to gather together and eat, sing, tell stories, even to dance, and celebrate this cheerful and sacred time that only comes once a week. “Oneg” can be translated as joy, delight, or pleasure. In the morning the community gathers again in the synagogue to recite special Shabbat prayers together. A weekly chapter from the Torah (the Jewish Bible) is read out loud. Afterwards, once more, everyone returns to their home or they are invited to each other’s homes for a festive lunch.

Shabbat afternoons can be spent in myriads of ways. Families may play games together, such as cards or board games, many people go for walks, children and teens get together with friends, and reading and taking naps are popular pastimes, as well. One final smaller meal is served in the late afternoon before sunset. As the sun gets close to the horizon the community has one last opportunity to gather together in synagogue to pray as one.

Q: What happens to signify the end of Shabbat?

A: An hour after the sun has set the family meets again in the home for the havdallah [hahv-DOLL-uh] service. “Havdallah” means “separation.” The family is separating the special, calm, restorative time that Shabbat brought them from the more rushed, scheduled time the regular week represents. Shabbat is called a “day of rest” not because Jews sleep in bed for the entirety of Shabbat, but because they rest from the type of work they do the other six days of the week.

On Shabbat there are no demands, or obligations to clean the garage, or do laundry, or drive the carpool. The daily pressures and deadlines of life are paused to allow for this peaceful, happy oasis in time. On Shabbat we reconnect and spend quality time with those we hold dear.

Meet G-d on Shabbat. He’s been waiting for you. Countless people walk through their entire lives without ever feeling G-d’s presence and value in their lives. Some people feel that if G-d truly exists then He will show himself to them. G-d bestowed each of us with free will to do as we want. With that choice available to us, He is waiting for us to seek Him out. If we didn’t have free will then He would have to come show Himself to us and we would easily all become believers. But, that would make our relationship with Him less fulfilling. This is where Shabbat becomes the vehicle to find Him. If we ignore Shabbat, we are squandering our opportunity.

Shabbat gives us the option to remove the daily distractions one day a week to focus on finding and connecting with G-d. Each one of us has the potential to build a meaningful relationship with Him. He’s waiting for us to connect to Him on Saturdays. Hashem is waiting for us to cut out the menial distractions and connect with Him on the holiest day of the week: Shabbat.

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