Judaism Provides Insights to Calling the Sabbath “A Delight”
Contributed By Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Church News contributor
From antiquity, the Jews were known for remembering and observing the Sabbath day. The Lord said, “I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.” He added, “I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God” (Ezekiel 20:12, 19–20).
The Hebrew name Shabbat is related to the Hebrew verb that means “rest, stop, or cease.” Thus, a part of the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy is to remember it and to observe it with both worship and rest—rest from typical activities that filled the other days of the week.
The first Sabbath day was established when the Lord ceased the work of Creation, blessed the day, and declared the day holy (see Genesis 2:2–3).
Eventually, ancient Israel identified this special day of the week as the “sabbath of the Lord” (Exodus 20:10).
The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, said He would honor those who remember and observe the Sabbath day. He also promised them that if they would speak of the Sabbath as a “delight,” they would find joy in the Lord. Further, the Lord promised Israel that He would make them “ride upon the high place of the earth” and that He would “feed [them] with the heritage of Jacob [their] father” (Isaiah 58:13–14). The rich, symbolic language paints the picture of a conquering king riding across his land and enjoying the fruits of the land.
While attending Hebrew Union College as a graduate student, I learned a lot about the Sabbath day from my Jewish classmates. At one point, I was introduced to the story “Joseph-who-honours-the-Sabbaths,” in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Shabbat, 119A).
Later, my wife, Jeni, found a children’s book, Joseph Who Loved the Sabbath, based on the story found in the Talmud (see Marilyn Hirsh, Joseph Who Loved the Sabbath ).
In this modern retelling of the old story, we meet a poor Jewish laborer named Joseph. Even though he worked hard with few rewards, he found great joy in the Sabbath day. He worked all week to save as much as possible so he could purchase the best food, oil, and wine for his Sabbath day meal. Before the Sabbath, Joseph cleaned his little home and then went to the market to purchase the best items for the Sabbath. He returned home and dressed in his Sabbath day clothes. As the Sabbath progressed, he sang, read the scriptures, and shared a meal with family and friends. He then prayed, sang more Sabbath day songs, and played games. As the author states, “Joseph enjoyed the Sabbath.”
Sorab, Joseph’s mean-tempered, selfish employer, dreamed one night that everything he owned would eventually go to Joseph who worked so hard for him. When Sorab woke from his dream, he sold his land, home, and livestock, purchased a giant red ruby, and got in a ship to get as far away from Joseph as possible. However, the ship sank in a great storm, and the red ruby popped out of Sorab’s hat where he had placed it for safekeeping. What we don’t know yet is that the giant red ruby was swallowed by a fish.
Sometime later, as Joseph went for his weekly trip to the open market, he heard someone yell to the crowd, “Who will buy this large and beautiful fish?” When Joseph saw the fish, he cried, “This is surely the finest fish in all the world!”
Joseph purchased the fish and prepared it for his special Sabbath meal. When he cut the fish open to serve it to his family and friends, Joseph found the giant red ruby. After selling it, he was able to purchase Sorab’s land, home, and livestock. He became rich and shared his blessings with all his family and friends each Sabbath day.
I found that my Jewish classmates and professors had a very special feeling for the Sabbath, just as Joseph did in the story. I was drawn to the joy and delight they found in remembering and observing the Sabbath day. It was not the Sabbath I had known but rather one that made me feel I could do better.
In the Restoration, the Lord reemphasized the importance of the Sabbath day in a revelation received on Sunday, August 7, 1831 (see D&C 59). In this important revelation, the Lord gives additional reasons and blessings associated with Sabbath day observances that can help us appreciate the “Sabbath of the Lord.”
He says that remembering and observing the Sabbath day will help us keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” ( verse 9). He promises that our “joy may be full” if we make the Sabbath day a day of “rejoicing,” a day of “thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances” (verses 13–15).
Like the promises in Isaiah, the Lord tells us in section 59 that “the fulness of the earth” is ours (verse 16). In this important Sabbath day revelation, the Lord informs us that the things of the Creation were made for His sons and daughters, “both to please the eye and to gladden the heart” (verse 18). We are to use the resources He provides as a result of the Creation “for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul” (verse 19).
Ultimately, the Lord promises all those who remember and observe the Sabbath day a reward beyond that of the giant red ruby that Joseph found in the belly of a fish, “even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (verse 23).
Richard Neitzel Holzapfel is a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.