Did you ever wonder why we light two candles at the beginning of Shabbat rather than just one? A lovely midrash (rabbinic teaching) offers a suggestion, and it is based on this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, in which we read the Ten Commandments. Our sages teach that one candle is for zachor (remembrance) and the other is for shamor (protection). Why these words? Because they are used for the mitzvah of Shabbat observance in both versions of the Ten Commandments.
This Shabbat we read the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments in which the fourth commands us to zachor-to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. In Deuteronomy, a few months from now, God commands us to shamor, to protect the Sabbath and keep it holy. Shamor is the basis for a more stringent rules-based version of observance. That is why ritually observant Jews call themselves “shomer Shabbat.”
The Mishnah (a first century legal code) enumerates thirty nine activities that are prohibited on Shabbat. Today, these ancient rules are applied to modern day activities. For example, because the Mishnah prohibits the kindling of fire, ritually observant Jews don’t ignite a spark that fires a car engine, or turns on lights. Hence, Shomer Shabbat Jews don’t cook on Shabbat, turn on or off lights, drive, use their computers or smart phones, listen to music, or watch TV.
Zachor-remembering Shabbat, is much more liberating. If the purpose of Shabbat is to rest, renew and refresh, why not find ways to fulfill the intent of Shabbat through a modern interpretation of Shabbat observance? As the Book of Genesis teaches, “God worked for six days and rested on the seventh.” Shabbat, at its core, is about separating work and leisure.
Rabbi Chaim Stern once wrote, “It is not easy to keep the Sabbath. The society in which we live does not create it for us; we have to create it for ourselves. And that requires remembrance, effort and self-discipline. We are not the first generation of Jews to face that difficulty; let us not be the first to be defeated by it.”
This is our task; become “Zocher Shabbat. Remember Shabbat mindfully in ways that are personally relevant and meaningful. This is the paradigm to which we should aspire today. Make a commitment to do or refraining from doing certain things on Shabbat. Enjoy a home cooked meal (or bring in prepared food) on Friday night. Light candles, say kiddush and motzi to infuse your meal with three minutes of blessing and gratitude before you eat. Try to reduce your use of your computer or smart phone. Do your Costco run on Sunday not Saturday (after all, Costco on a weekend is never refreshing, is it?) Instead, if you’re going to spend money, do so on items for immediate consumption-a cup of coffee with a friend; dinner out before Shabbat services, a Shabbat afternoon matinee. Be thoughtful and intentional in your choices, do what is right for you, and create a meaningful Shabbat practice.
Create your Shabbat and live by it. Give it a try and I bet you will feel refreshed and liberated.