Shabbat Themes and Theology

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Together, these passages give us the profound concept of imitatio dei--the imitation of God--in association with Shabbat. We should rest because God rested--and we should "remember" Shabbat and keep it holy. We also implicitly learn that even God, as it were, needs a break. And if God, the creator of the universe, needed to rest (and sanctified that rest), how much the more so do we human beings need a weekly opportunity to cease from all productive activities, from "creating."


The second reason the Torah gives for observing Shabbat appears in the version of the Ten Commandments presented in the Book of Deuteronomy. God says, "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe Shabbat" (Deuteronomy 5:15). This explanation touches on two momentous motivations for observing Shabbat. The first is the covenant between God and the Jewish people: God redeemed the Israelites from slavery, and the Israelites must observe God's commandments. The second motivation suggested by these phrases is one of deep empathy with our enslaved ancestors. Because our forebears who were slaves were unable to enjoy a day of rest, we should observe Shabbat as a demonstration of our own redeemed status--and perhaps, with a consciousness about those who are still enslaved.

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