The answer may surprise you. The most important Jewish holiday is not one that happens only once a year. It is one we celebrate every week.
It is the Sabbath, known in Hebrew as Shabbat.
Shabbat is at the core of Jewish life. It is built into creation, as we discussed in a previous post. It is part of the Ten Commandments. It has helped keep Judaism alive, and it is a gift adopted in different forms by other religions and cultures around the world.
What is so important about one day of the week?
We can understand why the Sabbath is Judaism’s most important holiday by recognizing three basic truths.
1. We are only human: As human beings, we need the Sabbath. We need it physically and psychologically. We are not made for extreme activity at every moment. We need rest. We need to recharge our batteries. Sometimes we forget to do so. Yet, when we turn to Shabbat, when we return to rest, we recapture the best of who we are.
American poet May Sarton captured this truth beautifully when she wrote,
I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.
2. Habits are hard to break: By making Shabbat a part of every week, we engrain it as a habit. It becomes a constant reminder of our faith and identity. Shabbat is important not because it is rare. Quite the opposite. Its frequency makes it a central part of who we are.
Every week we get a chance to connect with God as a community and as individuals. That weekly connection continually renews our relationship with God
3. Home is where our heart is: In Judaism the most sacred place is not the sanctuary. It is not even the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It is the family home. The home is where identity is learned and relationships formed. The home is where we learn the habits and values that shape who we are.
The primary activity of Shabbat takes place in the home. It centers around a meal, prayer, and singing. We do not need to go to a building to celebrate Shabbat. We simply need to gather and worship together as a community. That can and does happen in thousands of homes every week around the world.
The great Abraham Joshua Heschel captured this truth when he described Shabbat as a “cathedral in time.” The cathedral welcomes every one of us.