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  • Chloe Mastour

Public Speaking Winner- Day 1: Is the Concept of Shabbat Only a Jewish Concept?

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Is the Concept of Shabbat Only a Jewish Concept?

You don’t need me to tell you that human beings can do some pretty cool things. Just spend a day here at school. Whether genetically altering E. coli to glow in the dark with Mr. Elkins, becoming master architects with Mrs. Damacco, playing limbo with bagels on a stick (you know who you are), growing hydroponic tomatoes with Mr. Wykes and Maria, building digital apps to aid in our Shiriya victory (let’s go juniors!), blindly solving two Rubix cubes simultaneously while reciting the endless digits of pi, oh, and crushing the JV Basketball championships! As I said, human beings can do some pretty cool things. Though despite our immense achievements, we have not transcended the need for G-d.

The Fourth Commandment reads: Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the L‑rd your G‑d. On it you shall not do any manner of work—you, your son, your daughter, your man-servant, your maid-servant, your cattle, and your stranger that is within your gates.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present to you: Shabbos. Shabbos is the centerpiece of Jewish life and has been so since the infancy of our nation. As read in Bereishit, G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. On that day, G‑d created menuchah, rest, without which sustained creativity would be impossible.

For nearly all of human history, life consisted overwhelmingly of work. In effect, humans were beasts of burden. This commandment and only this commandment changed all that by insisting that we cease working one day out of seven.

Every week, we affirm our belief in the Creator, that the world didn't just happen, that life isn't some meaningless coincidence spurred by the spontaneous collision of atoms, but, that it is infinitely meaningful and therefore each of us has a purpose.

But is the concept of Shabbos only a Jewish concept?

Well, Christianity and Islam observe a weekly rest period. For Christians, the Lord's Day on Sunday is observed as the principal day of communal worship, both a day of rest and memorial. Muslim Sabbaths are observed during a specific day in prayer every Friday. Some Buddhists choose to rest, taking advantage of Uposatha, a time to take part in a number of practices involving meditation and teaching. For Hindus, who do not worship through group devotions, individuals must make arrangements in showing a “reverence for all life.”

In Western societies, days of rest have usually been concerned with the relationship between state and religion. Historically, religions establish the day of special worship, and so long as the community was religious and homogeneous, these days were generally observed.

The ancient Egyptian civil calendar divided the solar year into twelve months, each containing three weeks – the workweek nine days long, followed by one day of rest. Even the ancient Egyptians, despite their innovations-what with the papyrus, mummification, the ox-drawn plow-even privatized police forces, believe it or not- reserved time in their calendars for a day of rest! Don’t forget, the Egyptians built the pyramids. Pharoh had his men putting numbers on the board!

To be fair, that was around 5000 years ago. Here in the West, we’ve got our weekends and vacations, sure, but even those are increasingly bent toward structured pursuits. These days, we’ve got the essential oil-crazed millennials and the young vegan hipsters preaching for self-care days and days to treat yourself. But does sampling the new latte at Starbucks and taking a bubble bath under the guise of a mental health day come anywhere close to our shabbos? I would say no, no it does not. Jews Practiced Self-Care Before It Was a Hashtag! Self-care for the body and soul!

If you ask me, nothing could even pass as a knock-off shabbos! Personally, I’ve learned that a normal shabbos is hard to come by. Whether it’s because of the overly friendly manner in which you wish even your most bitter of enemies to have a good shabbos, the group of ladies at shul flaunting their new dresses at what has become the local Shabbos fashion show, the flock of schnorrers crowding the shmorges board at shalashudis and the accompanying bad breath whenever they open their mouths, the cutthroat games of monopoly, gin, chess, and blackjack, or even those dire Friday afternoons when drivers put their at risk at the literal parking lot warzones, with fleets of Honda Odysseys honking back and forth outside the deli! Eventually, a ceasefire is usually drawn, and always with a friendly, “Have a good shabbos!”

Is this all that makes Shabbos special? Some people love shabbos, an excuse not to shower on Saturdays; while some people think every day is Shabbos and never take a shower. In that case, the guest bathroom has got to be fumigated every now and then for the more hardcore shabbos-observers among us. Maybe Shabbos is special because of your guests; especially those you invite who you would never expect to actually accept the invitation! You also would never have expected the regifted babka they hand you as a gift.

Maybe it’s the foods your family eats together. My grandmother slaves over the chicken soup, but she always makes sure to give our guests neither too much nor too little-when they leave soup leftover in the bowl, world war III is guaranteed to break out. In that case, she’ll be sure to pick up some special canned soup for next time and call it a day. Maybe it’s the meaningful dinner conversation that makes your shabbos unique. Only, shh! You can’t speak about much because somebody is always bound to feel uncomfortable with the topic of discussion.

Hmmm…not bad for one day a week. No wonder Shabbos is one of the Ten Commandments. No wonder those who have it in their lives are often happier, with richer family lives, more serenity, a community of friends, and, yes, are even healthier. You don't have to be a Jew, a Christian, or even a believer in G-d to derive all these benefits. But the reality is that those who believe the Ten Commandments were given by G-d are the ones who have kept Shabbos alive. You might want to give it a try! But remember, on Saturday we re-enter the week, and we continue to make strides every day here in this building. After all, we can’t expect G-d to do all the work around here.

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