Marc Chagall

2024-01-06 - Parashah Shemot — “Names”

Torah: Shemot 1:1 – 6:1; Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 — 28:13, 29:22-23

The Second Book of Moshe is known in Hebrew as “Shemot,” from its opening phrase, Ve’eleh shemot (And these are the names). However, it is also known as "Exodus" - from the Greek word exodos, “The Departure” (of the sons of Israel out of Egypt). This name was first used in the ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh, the Septuagint.

The Book of Exodus is the natural continuation of Genesis. Genesis describes the lives of the Fathers of the Hebrew people; Exodus tells the beginning of the people as a nation. It records their enslavement in Egypt, and the deliverance from the House of Bondage. It establishes the institutions of the Shabbat and Passover, the Covenant at Mount Sinai, and the organization of Public Worship that was to make Israel into “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” It recounts their murmurings and backslidings, as well as the Divine guidance and instructions; the incident of the Golden Calf, as well as the supreme revelation that followed it - the revelation of the LORD as a “God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty.”

The importance of this Book is not confined only to Israel, though. In its epic account of Israel's redemption from slavery, mankind learned that God is a God of Freedom; that He espoused the cause of brick-making slaves against the royal tyrant; godliness exalts righteousness and freedom and humbles iniquity and oppression. The Ten Commandments spoken at Sinai, form the Magna Carta of morality for all nations not just Israel.

The second but the most celebrated – also, the most debated and misunderstood - institution in Jewish life that God established in the book of Shemot was the Shabbat.

What is the Shabbat? Why is this day different? Is Shabbat the “Lord’s day”? How should it be observed today and why? These are few questions that we, as Messianic believers, must understand and answer. Unlike the other measures of time – the day, the month, the year – there is no natural phenomena indicating the passing of the week, except for the divine commandment, therefore, the significance of Shabbat is of divine nature. Jews had to pay dearly for the Shabbat observance and no sacrifice was too great to maintain this cornerstone of Jewish existence throughout the ages.

“Nothing is required for the observance of the Shabbat, but the readiness of the soul to establish a harmony between the soul of man and the divine,” writes Abraham J. Heschel in his book “The Shabbat.” Shabbat is about our souls, about re-establishing the spiritual harmony between us and our Creator. “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had been doing; and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He had shabbat from all His work which God created and done” Genesis 2:2-3.

What does this Hebrew word "shabbat" means? Most often it is translated in English as “rest.” (Please note: Unless one can read the original manuscripts, all printed Bibles are just translations, thus, words reflect the interpretation of the translator, not that they are inaccurate but they reflect a certain cultural understanding). But I believe that this word, used here as a verb, “to shabbat,” does not simply imply a negative action, to do nothing, as in rest, but a positive one, to do something instead of what you have been doing for six days. That is not only because the context in which the word is used, but also because the Hebrew language has other words for “rest.” For example, one Bible passage that brings two other words in the context of Shabbat is Exodus 23:12: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall shabbat; that your ox and your donkey may nuach [rest], and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be nafash [refreshed].” In this verse there are three words that hint of what Shabbat day was meant to be: (1) Shabbat, to do something other than what you have been doing for six days, to do something in order to worship God – to stop toiling for the earthly things and concentrate on the heavenly; (2) rest, referring here to animals because their physical strength requires to be replenished, thus this word denotes a physical – non spiritual, a concrete manifestation of “rest” which is only a part of what Shabbat means; and (3) refreshed, used here referring to people who may not necessarily share our beliefs but nevertheless have a soul that needs to be spiritually nourished and thus refreshed, this word denotes another manifestation of “rest,” thus, another aspect of what the word Shabbat encompasses.

Heschel, capturing the essence of this day, further writes: “Shabbat is not “a day of rest” in order to gain strength for new efforts — Shabbat is a Goal. Our week does not begin with the Shabbat, it ends with it. Our weekdays are ascending; they precede the Shabbat as their goal. The secular is a preparation for the holy. The days of the week are longing for the Shabbat as our material life is longing for the eternal Shabbat to which it gravitates.”

The first recorded Shabbat observance is in Exodus 16:19-26: “And Moshe said, Let no man leave of it [of manna] till the morning. However, they listened not to Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank; and Moshe was angry with them. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating; and when the sun became hot, it melted. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much lehem (bread), two omers for each one; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moshe. And he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Tomorrow is the Shabbat observance, a holy Shabbat to the LORD; bake that which you will bake, and cook what you will cook; and that which remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.’” And they laid it up till the morning, as Moshe ordered; and it did not stink, neither was there any worm in it. And Moshe said, “Eat that today; for today is a Shabbat to the LORD; today you shall not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Shabbat, in it there shall be none.”” This passage tells us that God will provide for our physical needs for Shabbat and we should prepare for it the day before in order to empty the Shabbat day of the earthly worries and dedicate the day to the spiritual for which our souls hunger and thirst.

This event was before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. The Shabbat observance preceded all other commandments — note: the circumcision up to this point is not a commandment but a covenant. The Shabbat observance was later included in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:8, the fourth utterance, thus, it is a commandment: “Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is the Shabbat to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and shabbat on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Shabbat day, and made it holy.” But the Shabbat is a covenant as well, Exodus 31:16: “Therefore, the sons of Israel shall observe the Shabbat, to celebrate the Shabbat throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant.”

From these passages it is clear that Shabbat is a special day to the LORD. He blessed it and He made it holy, but not only that, it is a day that will be observed and celebrated into eternity by all mankind (Isaiah 66:23). And, as the Exodus passage clearly states, Shabbat is to be observed by everyone who is in the household of the sons of Israel, Jews and Gentiles.

But how about us, the Messianic Believers? How are we to “keep” this day? The first things that come to mind for many believers are the restrictions imposed by the Talmudic Judaism. But is this what God intended? Is this what Torah-True Judaism teaches? Could it be that the negative connotation that we give to the word “keep” makes us think of that? I think a better translation would be “observe,” it has a positive connotation.

Most believers look at the Torah as a compilation of dos and donts. On the one hand we claim that we are the sons – and daughters – of Avraham and thus entitled to the privileges that come with it written in the Torah, and on the other hand we claim that we are not “under” the Torah, but under grace, and thus disregard the writings of the Torah. But do we really know what it means not to be “under” the Torah? The Bible says that no one was saved by the works of the Torah but by grace – even Moshe, then, what is the role of the Torah? Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:24: “Therefore, the Torah has become our tutor to lead us to Messiah, that we may be justified by faith.” Are we not subconsciously given to this word, “Torah,” also a negative connotation, when it is of such vital importance in our coming to know who Messiah is? This is what the apostle Paul says, that one cannot come to know Messiah, cannot come to salvation, and thus, cannot be justified without the Torah.

The opinion of many believers today is that since the commandment to observe the Shabbat is nowhere repeated in the law of Messiah, the believer has no obligation to keep the Shabbat. But, does this reasoning make sense? If Yeshua asks us to keep nine of the commandments, why not keep all ten? Why should we be asked not to murder, not to steal, or not to take God’s name in vain but not to observe the Shabbat? Is it a too Jewish thing to do? Are we ashamed to associate with the Jewish people? Yeshua did not need to repeat this commandment to us because He Himself observed the Shabbat – He was repeating this “law” by example, by His own actions. The Shabbat is a sign of the covenant between God and Israel forever, like circumcision, who is also not included in the law of Messiah, but it is repeated by example in Yeshua – please read Luke 2:21. Also, many believers erroneously read the phrase in Revelation 1:10: “on the Lord’s day” as being Sunday. First of all, there is no indication in the text as what day of the week it was, but if anything John, not only being Jewish but also one of the closest disciple of Yeshua, the Lord of the Shabbat, would have had in mind a Shabbat day, and secondly, most Bible scholar believe that this phrase refers to a future day of God’s reckoning with the world, therefore, the “Lord’s day” could definitely not be Sunday.

I believe that the Bible is clear, Exodus 31:12-17 reads: “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak also to the people of Israel, saying, “Truly my Shabbats you shall observe; for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the LORD that does sanctify you. You shall observe the Shabbat therefore; for it is holy to you; everyone who defiles it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work in it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Therefore, the people of Israel shall keep the Shabbat, to observe the Shabbat throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant [this means forever, during the Biblical times, during the Talmudic times, during the New Covenant times, during the Millennium, and during the Eternity]. It is a sign between Me and the people of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He shabbat and was refreshed.”’”

Do you want to be put to a spiritual “death”? To be cut off from the people of God? Yes, we are not under the condemnation of the Torah, but the example that is given to us, the Messianic believers, by the apostle Paul is totally the opposite. He wished so much to be with his people, he cared so much for his brethren in the flesh, the Jews, that he would have given up his salvation (if that would have been possible) in order for them to be saved, for he wrote in the letter to the Romans 9:2-5: “There is great grief to me and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself be accursed, cut off from Moshiah for the sake of my brethren, my people according to the flesh, who are Bnei Yisroel: theirs is the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants, the Torah, the worship and the promises; theirs are the Patriarchs, and from them came, in so far as His humanity is concerned, the Moshiah.”

Our goal as individuals and as a congregation of Messianic believers is to bring the good news to the Jewish people, and the first step in doing that is to observe the Shabbat, “the most vital force in Jewish life.” Without observing the Shabbat, we will always be outsiders, trying to “convert” them to a foreign religion. But again, what does it mean to observe the Shabbat? It means to worship the Lord on the day that He chose, on the day that He sanctified. This is a special day to God as told by Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you restrain your foot because of the Shabbat, from pursuing your own pleasures on My holy day; and call the Shabbat a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable; and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own pleasures, nor speaking of vain matters; then shall you delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.” It is a day to put aside all vain preoccupations, the profane, and concentrate on doing the sacred. By worshiping on Shabbat, the last day of creation, we give testimony that we are worshiping the Creator of the universe. By worshiping on this special day, we will be rewarded with peace, joy and the heritage of Jacob. Why Jacob? Because from Jacob came the twelve tribes that formed the Jewish nation. Abraham had Isaac and Ishmael, and Isaac had Jacob and Esau, but Jacob, or Israel, is the true father of the Jewish nation and the Jewish heritage. By worshiping on Shabbat we stand with the Jewish people as part of their sign between them and God.

To worship on Shabbat means to stop doing our work and do God’s work. It does not mean to keep the myriad restrictions imposed by the Talmudic Judaism. But it means to be active in doing things for the kingdom of God, having a positive observance by the example that Yeshua gave us seeking first mercy and compassion, such as driving and making fire for a poor soul who is cold and cannot warm up the stove to even feed himself or herself, also visiting the sick and taking care of the needy.

This is what it means to observe the Shabbat, to have mercy and compassion. We have many examples in the Brit Chadashah of what Yeshua did on Shabbat: “And for this reason they were persecuting Yeshua because He was doing these things on the Shabbat. But He answered them, My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” John 5:16. Yeshua, our High Priest, was working on Shabbat healing not only the body but also the soul. Yeshua was persecuted for healing on Shabbat, yet the doctors of our time, much less qualified then Yeshua, are allowed to work — even by the ultra-orthodox — for saving a life, which is only an earthly life. “Have you not read in the Torah that on the Shabbat the priests in the Temple break the Shabbat and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the Temple is here. But if you had known what this means, I desire compassion and not a sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Shabbat” Matthew 12:5. These are Yeshua’s words. Yeshua is the Lord of the Shabbat. It is His day, the Lord’s day - God's special day.

Let us observe this day by worshiping Him in spirit and in truth, by putting aside all vain preoccupations, and by working for God's Kingdom only.

Shabbat Shalom.

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