Learning from Our Jewish Friends to Make the Sabbath a Delight

Contributed By David C. Dollahite, Church News contributor

  • 30 December 2015

Lighting candles and offering a blessing over the challah—braided loaves of bread eaten on Jewish Sabbath—are just some of the ways that observant Jewish families strive to keep the Sabbath a joyous holy day.

“Look for [other faiths’] strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008)

In speaking about our friends of other faiths, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life” (in Sheri Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley [1996], 576).

One of the strengths of observant Jewish families is the way they strive to keep the Sabbath by making it a joyous holy day. Latter-day Saints can learn much from our Jewish friends about making the Sabbath a delight.

I have learned how Jewish families sanctify the Sabbath as I have enjoyed time with Jewish friends on Shabbat—the Hebrew word for the Sabbath. Our Jewish friends believe that inviting guests—both Jewish and non-Jewish guests—to enjoy Shabbat together helps enlarge the circle of friends. I have fond memories of a number of times I’ve spent Shabbat with Jewish families.

I particularly enjoyed one Shabbat with my friends Will and Sherrie Gold. Their son Willie spoke the blessing (in Hebrew) over the challah—braided loaves of bread eaten on Shabbat—that he had learned during his studies for his bar mitzvah. As we sat at their Sabbath table we spoke of things that really matter—faith and family—and enjoyed the blessing of leisurely conversation with family and good friends.

One way for Latter-day Saint families to make the Sabbath a delight is by inviting others into their homes. Inviting those of our friends and family—Latter-day Saints and friends of other faiths—who would be particularly blessed by being with an active LDS family on the Sabbath is especially delightful.

Jewish women usher in Shabbat on Friday just before sundown (Shabbat is Friday sundown till Saturday sundown) by lighting two candles. As part of this ushering, a Jewish wife solemnly prays for the Jewish temple to be rebuilt and prays for family members. To end the Sabbath, Jewish men pray the Havdalah, which includes praying for the spirit of the Sabbath to linger throughout the week. We can make the Sabbath a delight by praying about things that matter most, including that the joyful spirit of the Sabbath day can remain throughout the week.

I have enjoyed in-depth interviews with a number of Jewish families in my work with the American Families of Faith project. One Jewish mother we interviewed said the Sabbath is “a time that I feel really close to [my children]. When we sit across the table from each other, my husband and I, and the Sabbath candles are lit, and I see the kids, there is something I get from that that is so deep.”

Our Jewish friends celebrate both the creation of the earth and the redemption from slavery on the Sabbath. We Latter-day Saints celebrate our redemption from death and from sin on the Sabbath. What a glorious and joyous thing to celebrate. The Book of Mormon states that “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ” (2 Nephi 25:26). Families can make the Sabbath a delight by rejoicing in Christ by talking of His life, miracles, Atonement, and Resurrection.

In a BYU class I teach called Family Life in World Religions, we read a book called How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, by Blu Greenberg, an Orthodox Jewish wife and mother. She teaches that the Sabbath is a joyous holy day and that “ordinary experiences often become sublime because of the special aura created by Shabbat” (p. 28). My students are always inspired with how Jewish families combine the seemingly disparate processes of both avoiding a number of activities that are fine on other days but not the Sabbath and also making the Sabbath day joyous and spiritual.

In his book The Sabbath, Jewish author Abraham Joshua Heschel states that “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time” (p. 8, italics in original) and points out that, after creating the earth, God chose to sanctify time—the seventh day or Sabbath—rather than space (e.g., this mountain, that valley, the sun, or moon). Heschel says, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul” (p. 13).

Heschel refers to the Sabbath as a “temple in time.” Observant Jewish families sanctify time in a number of ways by creating an “island of sacred time” in a sea of secularism. Their focus is not so much on what they cannot do but rather how they can make the Sabbath day sacred—or set apart from the other days. A way they do this is to make the Sabbath special by eating newly available foods (first fruits), special cuts of meat, special dishes, special tablecloth, special clothing, and so forth.

Jewish families have certain things they will not speak about on the Sabbath, including money, business, and other worldly concerns. They believe that avoiding discussion of earthly topics helps keep the Sabbath on a joyful spiritual level. When discussion of earthly, temporal, worldly things is avoided and heavenly, eternal, and spiritual things are cultivated, it can bring a deep delight.

The Lord desires that we “call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13). He invites (commands) us to keep the Sabbath “with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and a countenances” (D&C 59:15). The words “delight” and “cheerful” suggest to me that the Lord views Sabbath observance as a path toward spiritual joy and pleasure and that He desires for us to approach Sabbath observance with an attitude of delightful enjoyment. Latter-day Saint families can learn from our Jewish friends about how to make the Sabbath a delight by together choosing ways to make it special, joyous, spiritual, and peaceful. Of course, each family will choose the ways they feel they can best make the Sabbath a delight.