Why Is Keeping Shabbat So Important And A Brief Guide On How To Do It

Before I did teshuva (still doing), during my wild years (I was actually not so wild), I used to look at religious people with disdain. How could anyone subject themselves to being without using electricity for a whole day? To me this was unthinkable.

Baruch Hashem, as I grew in my learning, I came to the conscious and concrete realization that I can’t live without Shabbat. This is not mere fluffy, propaganda language. There is simply no substitute for having a full day of focusing on your inner self and abstaining from all forms of creative work. While I struggled to keep Shabbat properly (as almost everyone doing Teshuva does), in hindsight it’s much easier than it seems. More on this below.

The worst form of punishment in Jewish Law is not death at the hands of the court. That was seldom applied (see Makkot) and nevertheless, the criminal (now dead) got his atonement and could enjoy the Olam HaNeshamot (world of souls), assuming he is clean of other sins. Job done, move on. This can happen when a person kills another, after being warned and having 2 witnesses to the fact.

The worst type of punishment is actually called Karet, often translated as “[spiritual] excision”. This is when a Jew commits the worst types of transgressions. Included, but not limited, are homosexuality, bestiality, and of course, breaking the Shabbat. There are actually many forms of Karet, but we will keep it simple for now.

One would think that murdering someone would be the gravest crime possible. What is it about Shabbat that is so important? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give Karet to one who murders an innocent person?

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Secrets and sources about the Shabbat

Before we move forward, it’s important to know that there’s always a way to rectify sins.

As our sages teach, “Nothing stands in the way of Teshuva” simply because it’s higher than all the blemishes one can cause. Even if a person has been breaking Shabbat all his life, there’s always a way to recover it, so long as he’s alive in this world. But it needs to be done.

Shabbat is more than a day of rest. Many people think we merely “abstain” from work, but it’s a lot more than that. While we don’t have physical work, we have spiritual work that, can be a delight but it’s definitely not “rest. One who spends Shabbat all day long in bed could hardly be said to have experienced it.

Shabbat is the covenant between Hashem and the Jews. It’s called a brit (covenant) and an o’t (sign) at the same time, much like Shemirat HaBrit (guarding the brit). In keeping Shabbat a person testifies that Hashem created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th.

There are awesome kabbalistic secrets surrounding the Shabbat which we may delve into in different posts. But for now, I want to focus on some sources about the importance of Shabbat:

  1. On Friday, out of respect for Shabbat, they refrained from fasting and certainly not on Shabbos itself. (Taanit 27b)
  2. While one may think that honoring parents should override Shabbat, scripture clarifies that one must both fear their parents and observe Shabbat. (Yevamot 5b)
  3. The desecration of Shabbat was the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem. (Yevamot 6b)
  4. Haman believed that destroying the Jewish people could be achieved by first uprooting and then curtailing Shabbat observance. (Esther Rabbah 7)
  5. One who desecrates Shabbat, even if they possess Torah and good deeds, will not have a place in the World to Come. (Avot d’Rabbi Nathan, ch. 26)
  6. The desecration of Shabbat led to our dispersion throughout the Diaspora. (Tana d’vei Eliyahu Rabbah. 26)
  7. Observing Shabbat is the sign of the covenant between the Holy One, Blessed be He, and the Jewish people, and is as important as all other Mitzvot of the Torah. Those who flagrantly desecrate Shabbat are regarded as idolaters. (Rambam hil. Shabbat 7:15)
  8. As one eagerly welcomes their extra soul on the eve of Shabbat, so too will their soul be welcomed upon departing from this world. (Tikkunei Zohar 6, 23b)
  9. Shabbat is referred to as the Name of the Holy One, Blessed be He (Zohar, Shemot 88)

These are just some of the sources attesting to the importance of keeping Shabbat. It’s important to be mindful of the severity of breaking it, because ultimately fear of Hashem must proceed love of Hashem. Nevertheless, here are also some blessings Hashem bestows on us for keeping the Shabbat and its 3 holy meals:

Blessings for keeping Shabbat

  1. “Whoever fulfills the mitzvah of eating three meals on Shabbat is safeguarded from three evils: the birth pangs of the Messiah, the retribution of Gehinnom, and the war of Gog and Magog” (Shabbat 118a).
  2. “Whoever takes delight in Shabbat is granted a limitless heritage” (ibid.).
  3. “Whoever takes delight in Shabbat will be granted all the desires of his heart” (Shabbat 118b).
  4. “Whoever observes Shabbat according to the law, even if he would worship idols like the generation of Enosh, he is forgiven” (ibid.).
  5. “He who lends to Shabbat, Shabbat repays him” (Shabbat 119a).
  6. “Whoever prays on Shabbat eve and says, ‘Vayechullu,’ two ministering angels escort him, lay their hands on his head and say to him, ‘Your iniquities will be forgiven…'” (Shabbat 119b).
  7. “Said the Holy One, Blessed be He, to Israel, ‘My children borrow on My account (buy wine in order to) recite the kiddush for the day, and believe Me that I will reimburse you'” (Betzah 15b).
  8. All one’s food is allotted to him from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, except for the expenditures of Shabbat” (Betzah 116a).
  9. “If Israel observes Shabbat properly, even for one day, the son of David (Moshiach) would come. Why? Because it is equal to all the Mitzvot in the Torah” (Shemot Rabbah 25:15).
  10. “I gave you Shabbat for your good only. Hallow Shabbat with food, drink, clean clothing, and enjoy yourselves, and I will reward you” (Esther Rabbah 7).
  11. “Honoring Shabbat is tantamount to one thousand fast days, for the honor of Shabbat is a Torah obligation, whereas fasting is a Rabbinical obligation” (Tanchuma Bereishith 3).
  12. “The Shabbat day is equal to the entire work of the Creation” (Mechilta Yithro 20).
  13. When Israel became impoverished of the Mitzvot, only the merit of Shabbat stood them in good stead” (Mechilta d’Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai Tissa 17).
  14. “In the merit of Shabbat, a person is saved from the judgment of Gehinnom” (ibid. 19a).
  15. “All six days are blessed in the merit of the seventh day” (Zohar Shemoth 63).
  16. “Faith is bound with the Shabbat” (Zohar vol. 3, 94b).
  17. “Shabbat protects from all evil sides, i.e. evil forces” (Tikkunei Zohar from Zohar Chadash 168b).
  18. “The entire creation depended on Shabbat” (vol. 1, 5b).
  19. “The Holy Shabbat bestows spiritual life upon a person for the entire week” (Reshit Chochmah, Shaar KeKedushah, ch.2; Pele Yoetz, Shabbat, and other holy books).
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Experiencing the Shabbat the way we should

It takes some time until a person can properly experience Shabbat the way he should. For most who don’t connect to the prayers and rituals, it can be particularly difficult. But once you understand more or less what is happening, what a delight it can be, and start going with the flow, it becomes a lot easier.

A person could keep all Halachot of Shabbat, and still not “get it”. For example, in all technical sense, one could study for a secular exam on Shabbat, but he’d be missing the whole point of this hallowed day. Likewise, one could eat and drink, and spend his time talking about stupid things, all of which are permitted, but that could hardly be called a true Shabbat.

I like to say that “experience is the highest form of knowledge”. Maybe someone already said that, but no matter. The important thing is that:

  1. One cannot understand Shabbat unless he experiences it.
  2. Anyone truly experiencing Shabbat would necessarily be keeping it.

Now, yes, people sometimes leave the Torah way and seek to fill their voids through other means. Yes, sometimes religious people also break Shabbat. However, none of that is proof of the wonderful energy you get if you actually experience Shabbat the way you should. There other issues with this people, which we can tackle on in another article.

Ask someone who keeps Shabbat properly and knows what he’s doing if he’d accept to move a little box of matches 1 meter away for US$ 1 Billion, and he will promptly refuse. He knows that no amount of money is worth breaking Shabbat because he knows his entire World to Come hinges on it.

How to start keeping the Shabbat

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve struggled to keep Shabbat in the beginning.

The way to begin is by starting slow and then adding more things until you understand the true depth of it so that keeping it becomes second nature and you wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

So here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Plan ahead: planning can prevent a lot of frustrations. Since you are starting and especially if you are single, see if you can spend one or two meals with friends who already keep Shabbat. This can make it a lot easier to learn and spend the day.
  2. Buy things you need in your kosher supermarket: If, for example, you don’t bake, then buy Challot and food you need. Buy grape juice and wine if you like for Kiddush. Personally I always use grape juice for Kiddush and drink wine afterward.
  3. Learn: this is probably the most important part. Learning will make you appreciate what you are doing because every single “ritual” in the Torah has a deeper, Kabbalistic meaning. Trust me, I went through this process and I know how hard it can be, but once you know what you are doing it gets a lot easier and fun. There’s an awesome sense of purpose in knowing that what you do impacts the spiritual worlds.
  4. Prepare your house: If you don’t keep Shabbat yet, you’d be shocked to see how little difference it actually is in practical terms between Shabbat and a weekday. Simply leave the lights of the bathroom and kitchen on, the rooms dark and the plata on a timer for the meals. Cut toilet paper beforehand. That’s it! If you don’t turn on electricity (which you won’t need if you did it all correctly) and don’t do other Melachot (the 39 creative types of work), you are already observing about 90% of Shabbat.
  5. Enjoy: It’s a Mitzvah to delight in Shabbat with great food, wine (if you like), dessert, studying, singing, meditating, friends, resting, and marital relations. Take time to breathe and internalize the delightful idea that there’s nowhere to run, nothing to create, nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be sad about, just enjoy Hashem’s company and appreciate life.
Shabbat shalom.

This little guide is a great start if I may say so myself. I genuinely wish someone would’ve taught me this earlier, but I’m not bitter.

As I wrote, start slowly if you want, so you don’t crash and burn. Consistency is key. The more you know about Shabbat the more delightful it becomes. This is, after all, what your soul truly longs for after 6 days of work.

I bless you reading this that you should also experience the Shabbat and receive abundant reward both in this world and the next!

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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