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The importance of Shabbat

Part One: HaTikvah
By Shlomo Phillips © December 29, 2010 (last updated August 10, 2014)

"More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews." "Though I have set a limit to 'the end,' that it will happen in its time regardless of whether they will do teshuvah or not...
The scion of David (Mashiach) will come if they keep just one Shabbat, because the Shabbat is equivalent to all the mitzvot."

People usually think of Judaism as a religion but really, we are a people, a nation. Ours is the only nation in history that was directly established by G-d. His title HaShem reminds us that He alone is King over all kings. His Queen is HaShabbat, the Sabbath. Shabbat is the heart of HaShem and the heart of the Jewish people, Israel.

In our Siddur (i.e. Jewish prayer book) we welcome the weekly Shabbat (aka Sabbath) with L'Cha Dodi (Come My Beloved): Here's a lively version of this beautiful song:

Craig Taubman - L'Cha Dodi

L'Cha Dodi likrat kalah penei Shabbat nekabela!
"Come my Beloved to greet the bride, the Sabbath presence, let us welcome!"
The importance and sanctity of Shabbat can not be over stated. Shabbat is the sign of God's everlasting Covenant with the Jewish people. Shabbat is not a man made holiday based on the determination of some human counsel. Rather, HaShabbat was set apart for special observance by G-d Himself at the very dawn of the human experience! As we read in the Torah:

Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, along with everything in them.
2 On the seventh day G-d was finished with his work which he had made, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 G-d blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day G-d rested from all his work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.
Shabbat is the seventh day of the week. It stands unique among the days. While in Hebrew the other days are identified by numbers (Day One, Day Two etc) only Shabbat is named. Shabbat was specifically set apart as holy (kodesh in the Hebrew) by G-d Himself:
Kodesh is primitive root meaning to be (causatively to make, pronounce or observe as) set apart as clean (ceremonially or morally): - to appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, hallow, (be, keep) holy (place), keep, prepare, purify, sanctify. Kodesh is Sacred and Shabbat is the most kodesh of all.!
This 'setting apart' is not a sterile vacuum however. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains:
The joy of Shabbat is the gateway to true freedom -- Likutey Moharan II, 17

Sing many songs at the Shabbat table. Pay no attention to any obstacles. Others at the table may show little desire to sing, but you should still do your part. Make a determined effort to sing happily. Conduct the Shabbat table in a happy mood, because the main thing is the joy of Shabbat -- Sichot Haran #155.
The Kodesh Shabbat is joyous precisely because it is the most important ritual observance in biblical religion! Observing Shabbat is the sign that one is in the covenant relationship with HaShem. This knowledge is the wellspring of all true happiness for Jews: "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine, who grazes among the roses" (Shir Hashirim - Song of Songs 6:3).
Exodus 31:13 "And you, speak to the children of Israel and say: 'Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy.
Shabbat is for the Jews. It is the sign of our unique Covenant with the Creator

When to honor Shabbat:

According to both the Torah and ancient Jewish tradition new days begin at sunset:

Genesis 1:5 ...So there was evening, and there was morning, one day.
1:8 ... So there was evening, and there was morning, a second day.
1:13 So there was evening, and there was morning, a third day.
Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, is therefore sunset Friday to nightfall Saturday according to to the reckoning of our present calendars. While different calendars have been used over the years the Jewish people have always remembered HaShabbat. Modern Western calendars coincide with the biblical seven day week.

Psalms 55:6 But I will call on G-d, and HaShem will save me.
17 Evening, morning and noon I complain and moan; but he hears my voice.

Daniel 6:10 On learning that the document had been signed, Daniel went home. The windows of his upstairs room were open in the direction of Yerushalayim; and there he kneeled down three times a day and prayed, giving thanks before his G-d, just as he had been doing before.
As we read at Judaism 101:

All Jewish holidays [including Sabbath] begin the evening before the date specified on most calendars. This is because a Jewish "day" begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight. If you read the story of creation in Genesis Ch. 1, you will notice that it says, "And there was evening, and there was morning, one day." From this, we infer that a day begins with evening, that is, sunset. Holidays end at nightfall of the date specified on most calendars; that is, at the time when it becomes dark out, about an hour after sunset.
For this reason we lift up our prayers just before sunset (traditionally 18 minutes before sunset so as not to miss even a second of the sacred time). HaShem is so kind that He begins the day by allowing us rest! Then we arise with the sun, perform our prayers and other activities, and return to a state of rest and reflection on His goodness as the day draws to a close and the next begins.

Why we honor Shabbat:

Both Torah versions of the Ten Commandments include the commandment (mitzvah) to honor Shabbat. These commandments (mitzvot) instruct us that honoring Shabbat involves two interrelated commandments:

"The Hope"

Be the Blessing you were created to be
Don't let the perfect defeat the good