“Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him; to serve the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and the statues of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good.”
We ended the first day of our pilgrimage on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and were pulling in to our hotel just as the sun was setting on Friday night.
Which means it is the start of Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath.
I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Would the hotel be graveyard still, while religious Jews everywhere stayed inside, not working, not even pushing buttons on an elevator because of the prohibition against work?
Gentile that I am, I expected a somber mood. Lots of frowns. Lots of serious, observant Jews.
Instead, what I found at this hotel was joy. Families gathered together at the table. The wine flowing freely. I watched one young family as the husband poured the wine into one glass; read a passage from the prayer book, passed the glass to his wife to drink, then she passed it back to him. I watched a family at another table join hands and sing a prayer together with complete abandon.
I watched a father pass the prayer book to a young son learning to read. I watched the son sound out the Hebrew, while the father corrected, encouraged, praised. I watched the mother beaming.
And after the supper, I watched families talking, laughing, enjoying one another. Without a single electronic device to be seen anywhere. The only thing I saw on the table other than the food and the wine was the prayer book.
As I type this, the sounds of singing and laughter ring through the hotel. It is as different from what I expected from Shabbat in Israel as a wedding reception is from a wake.
Oh, how wrong we get the Sabbath! We have made it all about what we aren’t allowed to do. And because of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees, I suppose I just assumed Jews would see it the same way.
But the Sabbath is not primarily about what you are kept from doing. It is about what you are enabled to do because you have cleared away everything else. You can invest in your family. You can teach your children what it means to create margin in your life. You can sanctify your bride with a shared glass of wine. You can offer a joyous song of praise to the Master of the Universe, hands joined with those you love.
Beloved, never forget that God’s word tells us the commands He gives us are for our good. I am so humbled watching God’s chosen people truly find the good in keeping the Sabbath.
Shabbat Shalom is the shared greeting here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Sabbath Peace. May we all find the peace and freedom that comes from keeping His commands.