'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy'

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JERUSALEM, Israel - It's a commandment, as simple as that: 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' It's fourth in the list of Ten Commandments that God carved on two stone tablets and gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai to give to the children of Israel.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20:8-11)

That commandment is a national observance in Israel, one that sets the Jewish state apart and reaps blessing on young and old alike.
It's Friday morning in Jerusalem. The work week, which begins Sunday and ends around midday Friday, is nearly over. The pressure's on to get everything done before Shabbat (the Sabbath) begins -- around 7:00 this time of year.

On the streets of Jerusalem, flower vendors -- surrounded by a colorful array of beautiful and fragrant bouquets -- set up shop all around town. Fresh flowers are a Shabbat tradition in Israel. 

Soldiers, their laundry in tow, take a break from the military to spend the "weekend" with their families. Not everyone gets to go home. Israel can never let its borders unguarded. Some must remain on duty, observing the day as best they can, knowing their diligence allows the rest of the nation to rest and pray.

Traditions Vary

Family tradition, shaped by culture and level of observance, varies, but every family sets Shabbat apart in some way. Ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews, who try to follow the letter of the law as closely as possible, are often angered by less observant Jews.

Orthodox Jews make up about 20 percent of the population and have a much stricter observance than most everyone else, turning off computers and cell phones, not traveling in cars and even giving up smoking during Shabbat.

Then there's the national camp (modern Orthodox), and the somewhat less traditional Conservative and Reform Jews, along with every variety of non-religious and secular Israelis. 

By mid-afternoon, supermarkets, offices, stores and businesses in Jerusalem have closed. People everywhere wish one another "Shabbat shalom." The work week is over and everyone heads home.

Children play outside while their mothers put the finishing touches on the evening meal -- the most special of the week -- which includes two freshly baked loaves of challa, made by twisting three strands of dough together. 

Welcoming Shabbat

Before Shabbat begins officially -- at a time set by the rabbis based on scripture -- women light the Shabbat candles.

In Israel, mostly men go to the local synagogue -- within walking distance of their homes -- before the evening meal. Afterward, when everyone is seated around the table, the father prayers a special blessing over the challa and the wine and children join in singing some traditional Shabbat songs.

For much of the country, hiking, picnicking in national parks and forests or spending the day at the Mediterranean or Sea of Galilee makes for an enjoyable day.

To accommodate these families and the record numbers of tourists in recent years, more restaurants and convenience stores are open around the country on Shabbat than ever before.

The common denominator for observant and nonobservant alike is a day set apart from the rest of the week that everyone can look forward to. The Sabbath peace, which refreshes body, soul and spirit, has helped preserve the Jewish people throughout millennia.

In the tumultuous world facing Israel today, it's perhaps more important than ever.

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CBN News
Tzippe Barrow

Tzippe Barrow

CBN News Internet Producer - Jerusalem

From her perch high atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, Tzippe Barrow helps provide a bird’s eye view of events unfolding in her country.

She and her husband made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) several years ago. Barrow hopes that providing a biblical perspective of today’s events in Israel will help people in the nations to better understand the centrality of this state and the Jewish people to God’s unfolding plan of redemption for all mankind.