Sabbath and Shabbat

Words of the week: Shabbat  שַׁבָּת (To rest)   Shabbat Shalom!

On 7 August 1831, Joseph Smith dictated a revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 59, describing how the Church was to observe the Sabbath, or the “Lord’s day.” The revelation was specifically addressed to those who had recently moved to Independence, Missouri, and it probably came in response to the actions of their neighbors.

Many of the people who were already living in Jackson County had a different idea about what it meant to observe the Sabbath than the early Saints. A traveler to western Missouri in 1833, for example, stated that “the only indications of its being Sunday” in the area was “the unusual Gambling & noise, & assemblies around taverns.” It was in this context that the Lord revealed that observing the Sabbath would help keep the saints “unspotted from the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9).


The situation of the members of the Church in Missouri at this time was similar to another group of people who long ago also wanted to keep themselves “unspotted from the world.” In Mosiah 18, Alma was teaching people the gospel and having them leave their old homes to gather with the saints in the wilderness. Likewise, the saints in Independence had recently left their old homes to gather with the saints in a place that was, at the time, effectively wilderness. Both groups were attempting to separate themselves from the worldly practices around them. (Organization of the Relief Society by Nadine Barton)


Significantly, like Doctrine and Covenants 59Mosiah 18 also emphasizes the Sabbath. For example, shortly after baptizing those that had come out to him, Alma “commanded them that they should observe the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Mosiah 18:23). These words come from the Ten Commandments, which Alma had heard the prophet Abinadi quote to King Noah and his distinctly unholy priests. Like Alma’s instructions to his people, Doctrine and Covenants 59:10 similarly goes on to state that on the Lord’s “holy day,” the Sabbath, the saints should rest “from their labors” and pay their “devotions unto the Most High.” See Mosiah 18:25.

For Alma’s people, “there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to … worship the Lord their God” (Mosiah 18:25). The Lord told the saints in this dispensation that “on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:12). This shows that in both cases, the people were told to gather together to worship one day a week. Yet both texts also emphasize that “every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God” (Mosiah 18:23), or, as the Doctrine and Covenants puts it, “thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:11).


In many ways, it makes sense that the Lord would emphasize the Sabbath as a way to help people create a new identity in a new place. When the people were coming out to Alma to be baptized, they were leaving their temple behind (Mosiah 11:10). This sacred space would likely have been a very important part of these people’s lives. However, Alma seems to have been reminding them that even though they left their sacred space (the temple) behind, they could still take sacred time (the Sabbath) with them wherever they went. This seems to have been an ancient Israelite idea as well. In addition, the fact that keeping the Sabbath is so unusual allows any group that keeps it to remain somewhat distinct.


As the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants demonstrate, the Sabbath can be a force for good in the lives of all those who observe it. It can help people to avoid worldly influences and to remain distinct from those influences.12 In addition, the Sabbath allows people to experience sacred time, even if they may live too far from a temple or chapel to experience sacred space on a regular basis.


As President Russell M. Nelson stated, What did the Savior mean when He said that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”? I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal. God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty, with physical and spiritual relief.


The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants affirm that the principles behind the Lord’s distinctive commandment to His ancient covenant peoples regarding the hallowing of one day in seven are still alive and in effect in this dispensation of the Gospel. The people of God today should give to Him one day each week, dedicating their time to worshipping and serving the Lord. Modern readers can, and will, experience the many blessings promised in the scriptures if they will observe and keep this inspired guidance by lovingly dedicating His day each week to Him and His wishes, as He has gently invited and instructed His people to do.


Judah Observes the Sabbath

For centuries Judah’s observance of the Sabbath, which is “representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine,” has distinguished its people from pagan neighbors and preserved its identity as a covenant people. Some, such as Ahad Ha-Am (as noted below), have surmised that because of its unique formalism, keeping the Sabbath preserved the Jews more than any other tradition or practice.


Although there are variations in the formalism of observance, a general pattern tended to follow these guidelines: Friday was given over to preparations for the Sabbath and the Sabbath ritual commenced at sunset. In ancient times, the designated hour to begin the Sabbath was announced in Jerusalem when a priest standing atop a temple tower blew a ram’s horn or trumpet. In other Judean localities a sexton atop a synagogue roof issued similar blasts from a horn. The first blast signaled those laboring in the fields to cease work. Those who worked in town waited until the second blast to close their shops. The third blast announced the time to kindle Sabbath lights. After candles were lit, three successive blasts heralded the sacred Sabbath rest. Although the blasts have fallen out of use, observant Jews still begin the period of rest shortly before sundown.

As the day for praising and celebrating god unfolded, Jews donned fine clothes, ate delicious meals, studied the Torah, and attended lectures on religious topics. On the Sabbath, fasting, mourning, and petitioning God for release from sorrows are prohibited, for the Sabbath is a day of rejoicing. On this day even a poor man is considered rich and all men and women were considered kings and queens. On this day worldly cares are replaced with rejoicing, pleasures, and a “foretaste of paradise.”

As the Sabbath wanes and three stars appear in the sky, observers light a candle and people wish each other, “A good week, a full week, a fortunate week, on us and on all of Israel. Amen.” Songs are sung and the Sabbath ends. “Shabbat Sholom!”

The idea of Sabbath, particularly rest from daily toil, so permeated Judaism that it expanded into other time frames: from one day in seven, to one year in seven, and culminating in a jubilee year: one whole year after seven times seven years. But whether measured in days, weeks, or years, the observance of Sabbath has been and continues to be of central importance to the Jewish people. As Madsen noted,  “One could argue that the things that might well have destroyed the Jews failed to do so because, if for no other reason, they kept the Sabbath – even in a small degree.” By Susan Easton Black, The Sabbath As A Covenant in Mormonism and Judaism,

Shabbat is special because God has sanctified the day and made it unique, and Shabbat is special because we tap into that uniqueness by doing things we don’t ordinarily do, by performing rituals that make the Shabbat experience singular for us. These rituals give Shabbat an aura that sets it apart from our workweek, and bring the holiness of Shabbat into our lives.

It begins with the way in which we usher in Shabbat—we work Friday to prepare ourselves, home, and family, and then eighteen minutes before sunset, all becomes still as we light the candles, cover our eyes and recite the blessing. This Shabbat tranquility that has descended upon us carries through to the Friday night services welcoming of Shabbat, “Came my Beloved to meet the Bride; let us welcome the Shabbat,” the greetings we extend to our attendant angels upon arrival from the synagogue, the Kiddush – sanctification – and meals we hold in honor of Shabbat, and ultimately, to Shabbat’s final

Shabbat candles are traditionally a woman’s mitzvah – responsibility and blessing. The woman sets the tone of the household; it is her task and G‑d-given ability to ensure that light and harmony prevail in her home.

  • Young girls light before their mother.
  • Place the candles on or near the Shabbat dinner table.
  • Put some money in a charity box before lighting the candles.
  • Until marriage, women and girls light one candle. Post-marriage, women light two candles. Some add an additional candle for each child, so that, for example, a woman with three children lights five candles.
  • Once a woman recites the blessing, she has ushered in the Shabbat. From that point on, she may not engage in any activity that is forbidden on Shabbat.
  • The candles and candlesticks may not be moved until the conclusion of Shabbat.
  • Electric bulbs can be used as Shabbat candles where an open flame is not possible, such as in a hospital.


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