In home school this year, my kids and I are celebrating our way through all the Jewish festivals. Our reasons are three-fold: First, it’s a very fun, interactive way to study a culture other than our own. Second, our Christian faith is built upon the writings and teachings of the Jewish faith; in essence, Christianity is a completion of Judaism. Finally, and most importantly, God created and ordained these festivals to teach his people about himself, and these holy days contain fantastic object lessons about God and his plan.
We began with Hanukkah last December, which is unique because it is not among the list of feasts God commanded the Children of Israel to celebrate. It has become a favorite holiday, one celebrated by Christ himself, but it’s origin was a later time. The Sabbath, likewise, is unique, not in its origin, but in its frequency. Instead of once a year, it is celebrated once a week, which testifies to its importance. It was the first holy day given, and a logical one for us to study next.
The Sabbath was created as a time of rest and modeled by God himself after the six days of creation. It is a gift; permission to take time off work. And since God designed us, he understands better than we do the limits of our bodies. I read that the French once redesigned their week to a 10 day format – 9 days of work then a day of rest. It was a complete failure and they returned to a 7-day week within a few years. Today, many of us have rediscovered this truth. Overtime is nice, but overwork takes a tremendous toll. We need rest.
But there is more to this day than the obvious. The Jews understand that the Sabbath is also a picture of the future, and that Messiah, when he comes, will usher in a time of rest and of peace, when “swords will be beat into plowshares.” A host of traditions and symbols are used to celebrate this holy day, to “remember it and keep it holy.”
First, it’s important to understand that Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, not Sunday, and days are reckoned from the evening prior. So the Sabbath begins on Friday night and ends on Saturday night. Friday supper, therefore, becomes the most important meal of the week.
Traditionally, the mother begins the meal by lighting two candles, representing the two commands “to remember” and “to sanctify,” or keep it holy. They also represent creation and redemption, and thereby point to the Messiah. Mom then says the blessing, something similar to “Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, who has set us apart by thy commands and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath lights.”
Next, the father recites the blessing of the wine or grape juice, which in the Old Testament represents joy, and which is poured into a special cup: “Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, who creates the fruit of the vine.” And just before the meal comes the blessing of the bread: “Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Bread represents God’s provision, and two loaves are used to recall the double portion of manna given to the Children of Israel in the wilderness. And because the Sabbath looks forward to a time of peace, no knife can be used on the bread; it is broken by hand as it is passed. Knives are even covered or hidden at this point.
As Christians, the symbolism of the wine and the bread immediately brings to mind our Communion service, which celebrates the blood and body of the Jesus and the sacrifice Messiah made for us; the means by which we will attain final peace. Not only is the Sabbath a time of rest, it is a picture of Christ. As with all of the Jewish holidays, God has used it to reveal a part of his plan.
And these are not the only object lessons. On Saturday evening, other traditions usher out the Sabbath and point again to our Savior. Two candles, twisted together to unify creation and redemption (accomplished by Christ), is lit. The wine is poured into the cup until it overflows, the extra caught in a bowl, and the flame extinguished in it. Then a box with fragrant spices is passed around to remember the sweetness of the Sabbath and anticipate its return at the end of another week. Through this, we are reminded that the “light of the world” also went out for a time, and spices were prepared for his burial. But just as the Sabbath returns, so did the Light.
These are beautiful reminders, and simple enough even for my children to understand. This past Friday, we purchased some “special” inexpensive cups, some sparkling grape juice, some candles, and we baked up two loaves of challah to accompany a special dinner which they helped me cook. The preparations made it memorable. In fact, my son told me it felt like Thanksgiving. That was exactly my intention; to make it special enough that they would remember the object lessons and to understand why we also set aside one day each week to rest and worship God. My kids enjoyed it so much they want to do it again. That’s fine by me. Friday night comes every week. I can spare a few for such a significant occasion.